Study: A Third of Work E-Mail Wastes Time

Memo to employees trying to catch up on their e-mail: About a third of it is probably worthless.

A new study finds that with managing e-mail taking up more than an hour of many workers' days, at least 34 percent of messages do not contain any information employees need to do their jobs properly.

"We were shocked by the result," said Neil MacDonald, vice president and director of research with Gartner Inc., a research advisory firm in Stamford, Ct. "What this means is a third of that time, or roughly a third, is wasted."

In a self-commissioned survey, Gartner asked 330 business e-mail users in a variety of occupations and job titles about the contents of their e-mail in boxes.

The company found that the average e-mail user spends 49 minutes managing e-mail on the job each day, and a quarter spend more than an hour a day managing e-mail.

‘Friendly Fire’

Besides obvious "spam," or unsolicited marketing e-mails from outside companies, Gartner found 34 percent of e-mail messages were what it called "friendly fire" or "occupational spam" — well-intentioned but unnecessary messages from co-workers. These can include messages sent to wide mailing groups but relevant only to a few users in the group, widely circulated jokes or chain letters, or extraneous acknowledgements such as "You bet," or "Thought so," especially when intended for one person but sent back to all recipients of a group-wide message.

Gartner recommends that companies create a policy on e-mail etiquette to prevent the unnecessary e-mails and avoid lost productivity.

"You can start an e-mail storm when people are e-mailing back and forth, but copying everybody," MacDonald said. "It takes time, it's non-productive and there's no spam filter in the world that will get rid of this for you automatically. That's why this is so insidious. It looks and feels like it's legitimate e-mail because it's from your co-workers. But it's not until you open it up that you realize it's a waste of time."