‘Email culture’ – is it stifling employee engagement?

We’ve seen quite a bit of evidence from research conducted over the past 18 months that employees and organisations are moving towards an ‘email culture’.  What this means in practice is not just that email is a medium of communication but it is rapidly replacing others forms of interaction, most notably ‘one-to-one’ interaction.  Employees are not getting up from their desks to go and speak to their colleagues face-to-face, from an employee engagement perspective this is worrying.  In addition, recent research has shows that 71 per cent of workers believe an increased number of people will work from home by 2036, whilst, 54 per cent of current workers believe they may never meet any other members of their team and 39 per cent think employees are unlikely to meet their bosses before starting work!!!

What we are seeing is a cultural shift that many organisations don’t realise is taking place, the effects it can have are quite startling.  Employees who spend more time using email as their primary (even, only communication tool) are losing a key ingredient for employee engagement, human interaction.  Without that ability to bounce of one another, creativity, ideas, solutions to problems (whilst do still happen) are less spontaneous and generally less effective.

Managers who work remotely are likely to give less feedback, make their employees feel less empowered, and create employees who are less satisfied with their employment than those in the office full-time, according to a new study by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and GfK Custom Research. In addition the study shows that communication between employees and managers who telework or work virtually contain ‘fewer contextual indicators’, which hamper accurate interpretations and foster misunderstandings.

It is the lack of these contextual indicators that has given rise in a number of organisations to a culture of  distrust and blame where, interestingly, email is then used as a tool to ensure that all parties are made aware of decisions etc. – creating culture of email overload.

This combined with the increase in technologies such as e-mail, mobile phones and instant messaging making workers instantly contactable, often outside of their working day, can only lead to a SAD – stressed, angry and distracted – workforce. We’ve seen increasing evidence of this in our work survey participants.

If, as an organisation, you are overloading the technologies intended to streamline communication and encouraging communication outside of the working day, this must have an impact on employee engagement. It is worth considering how new technologies have changed patterns of work and establishing acceptable business etiquette within your organisation – before your workforce becomes SAD.