January 19, 2014
The 7 Email Sins
I have had an email address since I was in high school in the mid to late 90’s. In fact, I still have my very first email address; you know, the one with the silly name. I do not check this first email addy often, but I keep it both as a reminder of the earlier me and because certain friends and family members only email me on that one, despite the fact that I have a more professional, adult one that I use on a daily basis. Plus, I have my work emails. For some reason, I actually have two email addresses at the college: one just for faculty and staff and one through the course management system. All told, I have four email addresses that I check regularly.
And I know that I am not alone in this. Most people in my life have at least two email addresses: their work one and a personal one. Kingston University in London, England, researched the saints and sins of email. It turns out that emails have more of a mental health impact than perhaps we realized. Let’s look at these email sins found by lead researcher Dr. Emma Russell as presented at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference.
1) Ping Pong Emailing
This occurs when email messages are responded to immediately from senders and recipients, which causes a long chain of emails. Both sides hate this because the build up of emails is annoying, but also because when ping pong emailing happens, it likely means that a conversation needs to take place. Plus, it puts pressure on recipients and senders to respond immediately.
2) Emailing Out of Hours
Back in the beginning of my emailing days, the only Internet readily available to the public was dial-up, which meant that checking email cost money by the second, as well as cost much time. So, the result was that we only checked email maybe once a day. Now, though, with 4G and broadband, email is constantly available to us, even in the palm of our hands through our smartphones. This means that people can check their email even when not at work. Though this seems like it shows diligence and commitment, it also means that people could (and often do) feel like they can never turn off work. That pressure and stress mounts.
3) Emailing While in Company
Nothing is more frustrating than to be at dinner, a party, or even just spending time with friends and family when one of the party starts checking and sending emails. The distraction is multifaceted. First of all, the one checking emails no longer pays attention to the other(s) and the rest find themselves distracted by the act. They want to know what is happening even if they really don’t want to know or really don’t care. Curiosity will peak when one person starts checking their email while in the company of others. Plus, it’s just rude. Basically, what we say when we do this is that we have more important emails to attend to than the one-on-one attentions we have right in front of us.
4) Ignoring Emails Completely
The opposite of sins 2 and 3 is to just ignore emails altogether. Because we have such constant access, and because so many do not shut off, sometimes we just get overwhelmed by all the emails. Instead of just taking them one at a time, we ignore them for whatever reason. Constant connection leads to shutdown for many. This extreme is not good either.
5) Requesting Read Receipts
Read receipts are both obnoxious and offensive. Basically, they are a way to Big Brother each other. Read receipts allow senders to know when someone opened their email. I don’t know about you, but I often open an email, skim it, and then later respond when I have had time to think about it. Read receipts make it look like I’m negligent when really I’m just considering what to respond. Plus, they bring on more anxiety because if a read receipt is required, then we feel compelled to answer right away even if it is something minor.
6) Responding Immediately to an Email Alert
Sure, when we do this, we show that we are connected and on top of things, but it also makes it so that others see us as constantly available and always clocked in or, better yet, logged in. This means that when we don’t respond immediately, others might wonder why and maybe even become suspicious. I don’t know about you, but I like to distance my personal life and my professional one.
7) Automated Replies
The final email sin is the automated replies. Now, I know that for those who use these, the intent is to let others know that they can’t reply right then. I get that, but they are also incredibly annoying. Plus, I never know if that means that the email did actually make it to the recipient’s email inbox or if the automated reply means that I will have to resend.
I can’t say that I am not guilty of some of these. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most people fall prey to at least one of these sins on occasion. It is important that we consider our actions and choices with email and adapt to the changes in access. Instead of always being connected, we should set limits. Email is convenient and great, but we should not ping pong so much. Ping pong emails probably mean a conversation needs to happen. And we should consider how our actions as email senders affect recipients and others around us.
When it comes to stress and anxiety, being aware of our email choices (and ultimately email sins) will help us to manage better.
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