December 8, 2002

Email at work

Email at Work: Few feel overwhelmed and most are pleased with the way email helps them do their jobs

American workers’ moderate email lives

Email is an integral part of American workers’ lives. About 62% of all employed Americans have Internet access and virtually all of those (98%) use email on the job. That translates into more than 57 million American adults whom we will call “work emailers” throughout this report. Most of them use email daily for work tasks. But contrary to the perception that wired American workers are buried in email, the large majority of those who use email at work say their experience with email is manageable. They say they spend a modest amount of their typical workday reading and writing email. A portion of those emails probably replace telephone calls or faxes or traditional mail.  For about half of American workers, email volume has grown in the last year; for the other half, it has remained the same.

  • 60% of work emailers receive 10 or fewer messages on an average day; 23% receive more than 20 and only 6% more than 50.
  • 78% of work emailers send 10 or fewer messages on an average day; 11% send more than 20.
  • 73% of work emailers spend an hour or less per day on their email. That includes 23% of all work emailers who spend fewer than 15 minutes per day handling email.
  • 46% of work emailers say their work email volume has stayed the same over the past year.
  • 48% say their email volume has increased over the past year.

Relevant content; little spam

Those who use email at work say their electronic communications mostly contain content that is highly valuable to their work. Fifty-two percent of them rate their email as being “essential to their work,” and an additional 34% rate it as moderately important. While spam (unsolicited email) is a growing problem for personal email accounts and for the Information Technology specialists and Internet Service Providers who are trying to stanch its flow, little spam reaches the on-the-job inboxes of American workers.

  • 53% of work emailers say that almost all of their incoming email is work-related and 58% say that almost all the email they send is work-related.
  • 75% say that only a little of the email they receive or send at work is personal.
  • 71% say that only a little of the work email they receive is spam.

Email is good for relaying facts, but bad for heart-to-heart communications

In the workplace, email works best for some of the simplest tasks, like managing logistics and communications. Email also serves the most complicated tasks, like big projects. Email comes up short for matters that involve sensitive issues and problems.

  • 77% of work emailers say email helps them keep up with events at work.
  • 63% find email more effective than using the phone or talking in person for making arrangements and appointments.
  • 67% find email most effective for reviewing or editing documents.
  • 85% of work emailers prefer to have conversations when they are dealing with workplace problems and other sensitive issues. Fewer than 6% consider email effective in these cases.

Responsible email behavior; positive email attitudes

Work emailers display a generally positive, if somewhat dispassionate, attitude about their email situation at work. They see email firmly implanted as part of their jobs and act accordingly. They consider that the benefits of email outweigh drawbacks.

  • 88% of work emailers check their email at least once a day. Of those, 70% check at least several times a day.
  • 82% of work emailers reply to most of their important email by the end of the day.

Relatively few work emailers check their email when they are out of the office. Just 15% of work emailers check their email before heading to work and 26% check their email after work. Some 15% say they check email on vacations and 31% check it on weekends.

  • 64% of work emailers consider email a necessary chore; 26% look forward to it.
  • 71% consider email a mixed blessing, but feel mostly positive about it. An additional 17% say they couldn’t live without it.

Email keeps people talking and juices flowing

Email in the workplace encourages communication.

  • 72% of work emailers say email helps them communicate with more people.
  • 62% say email makes them more available to co-workers; however, about a third of all work emailers say email has made them too accessible to others.
  • 56% say email improves teamwork.

Absent the rules and protocols of letter writing and even telephoning, email use is wild and wooly. People use it for all kinds of professional and personal communications on the job and mostly like the devil-may-care effect on workplace culture.

The lighter side of email on the job:

  • 43% of work emailers say email has offered them some relief at times during their workday.
  • 39% of work emailers say they have sent jokes or chain emails at some point.
  • 25% have used email to discuss personal life.
  • 15% admit to gossiping about work on email.

The darker side:

  • 22% of work emailers say email has caused misunderstandings.
  • 28% find email distracting at times.
  • 23% say email adds a new source of stress to their work lives.
  • 16% say email encourages gossip.

The rise of the power emailers

A small, but distinct minority of work emailers handles a large volume of emails every day and these power emailers are substantially different in their behavior and attitude about email from other work emailers. Power emailers make up about a fifth of wired workers. A detailed table of how they differ from standard work emailers appears on page 17. Of these power emailers:

  • 22% receive more than 50 emails a day; 50% receive between 21 and 50.
  • 44% send more than 20 emails a day; another 32% send between 11 and 20.
  • 68% spend more than 2 hours a day working on email, including 16% who spend more than 4 hours on most days handling and writing email.

Cite this publication: Deborah Fallows. “Email at work.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (December 8, 2002) http://www.pewinternet.org/2002/12/08/email-at-work/, accessed on July 23, 2014.