E-Mail Communications and the “Always On” Culture

It’s a common complaint of people in business:  E-mail is this great big blob that consumes way too much of their day. 


And now we know just how much.  According to a recent report published by Adobe —  “E-Mail Survey 2016,” — white collar adults around the world are spending ~17% more time on e-mail activities today compared to last year.  And on the business side, the growth is even bigger.

According to the findings of this research, which included surveys of ~1,000 American and ~3,000 European white collar workers, the time spent on work e-mails on a typical day is ~4 hours, while personal e-mail communications account for an additional ~3.3 hours.

This combined total of nearly 7.5 hours means that nearly one third of the typical day is spent working with e-mail communication.

Those findings suggest that other than sleeping, people spend more time on e-mail than on any other type of activity.  How frightening is that?

[Findings among Europeans are much different, either, as this infographic illustrates.]

Contributing to the “always on” atmosphere, is the fact that smartphones have definitely become the “go-to” device for e-mail activities. Nearly 85% of the survey respondents reported that they check e-mail regularly on their smartphone, compared to around 70% who check their desktop or laptop regularly for e-mail.

In the workplace, the two devices are used approximately equally for e-mail activities, but on the personal side, smartphones have it all over other desktops and laptops.  Nearly two-thirds report that they use their smartphones regularly for e-mail, compared to fewer than 30% who use other devices.

The other attribute that e-mail affects is the speed at which e-mails engage their recipients. The nature of e-mail is that it is “intrusive” and engenders a sense of time-sensitivity.  For work e-mails that require a response, here’s how quickly those responses happen:

  • Within a few minutes: ~14%
  • Within 1 hour: ~29%
  • 1 to 2 hours: ~24%
  • Within half a day: ~16%
  • Within 1 day: ~10%
  • 1 to 2 days: ~5%
  • Longer than 2 days: ~2%

This means that two-thirds of work-related e-mails elicit a response from the recipient in two hours or sooner. But believe it or not, that’s not good enough; nearly three-fourths of the respondents expect to receive a response to their e-mail within that time period.

What this research proves is that although many people like to complain about e-mail communications taking over their lives, it’s actually become an integral part of daily life, to the degree that those same people are now conditioned to expect e-mail engagement in real-time.

In short, “always on” e-mail is now the norm. And if you don’t like that very much, there’s basically nothing you can do about it.

For more information on the results of the Adobe research, click here.