Improving employee communication: 34 billion work emails go right to the trash
When employees are missing out on so many “business-critical” messages, it's time to rethink your communication strategy.
As U.S. workers collectively receive 576 billion emails annually, employers embarking upon digital transformation should communicate strategically if they don’t want workers to just tune them out, according to GuideSpark’s report, “Strategic Corporate Communication: 5 Steps to Overcome the Noise and Increase Impact.”
On behalf of GuideSpark, IDC surveyed 300 employers and found that each day, workers receive about 50 work-related emails, and every worker receives about nine “strategic corporate communication” emails per day. Roughly 40 percent of the total emails annually received by U.S. workers (44 billion) are “not important,” and of those, 34 billion are automatically routed to trash by email rules or other process, without being read or action taken by the workers receiving the messages.
“Email overload causes employees to ignore, overlook or misunderstand what they are supposed to do,” the authors write. “Important messages must be communicated well, or the benefits of key strategies or initiatives can be lost.”
Many “business-critical” messages about strategic initiatives or important business process changes often fail to generate the desired consistency of effort or action, the survey found. Meanwhile, “non-strategic” messaging about more routine activities such as health and wellness events, employee rewards and recognition, or internal events, often fail to achieve employers’ desired amount of worker participation or engagement.
“Good corporate communications practices help orchestrate messages, so every message receives the appropriate attention,” the authors write. “Good communications increases relevance of messages by making the importance and purpose of the message clear to the employee.”
While employers often send emails to workers with the intention for them to take specific action, many workers are interpreting the messages as “information-only” emails, according to the survey. The originators of messages want action in one-third of messages they send, but employees receiving these messages believe 45 percent of the messages require action.
“The opportunity is for senders to more clearly inform receivers of the expectation to act, helping receivers give each message the proper attention,” the authors write.
The survey also compared reactions to messages that are part of a series versus those that are “stand alone.” Workers tend to believe most messages are part of a series, even though only 40 percent of messages actually were.
“This suggests employees are making connections between emails, even when the sender thinks of the message in isolation,” the authors write. “Senders can take advantage of the receiver’s perception by intentionally connecting related messages to broader themes to aid in understanding and increasing motivation.”
Specific communications types had their own characteristics that improved success, the survey also found. For example, localization and frequency were both important to the success of security and onboarding communications. But a call to action was important for onboarding, but not for security.
“Just reading a message might constitute ‘success’ for some types of communications,” the authors write. “Other types require a more active response. That’s why we believe the program’s purpose determines how success should be evaluated.”
The report details five steps that employers should consider to increase the impact of their strategies communications:
- Strategy: use strategic internal corporate communications to create a shared understanding and motivation.
- Purpose: make the importance and purpose of the message clear to the employee.
- Design: craft communication programs to reflect the desired actions and audience requirements.
- Reinforce: increase understanding, motivation and action by creating campaigns that include a series of messages.
- Measure: evaluate each communication program’s success by considering its specific purpose and intended actions.
“Information overload is having a negative effect on employee’s ability to understand change, leading to strategic priorities and programs not getting the attention and action they deserve,” the authors write. “Enterprises undergoing crucial change need to segment their audience and reduce irrelevant communications, and enterprises must measure communications programs to properly evaluate success.”