- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Office employees are spending nearly an hour per day sifting through e-mail messages, more than one-third of which are unnecessary missives sent from co-workers and employers, according to a new survey.

Thirty-four percent of the internal office e-mail workers receive does nothing more than waste their time, respondents in the Gartner Group survey said. The Stamford, Conn., research firm surveyed about 330 people who work for companies ranging in size from 20 to 10,000 employees.

"It's not spam, but it's every bit as useless as spam," said Gartner Research Director Neil MacDonald, who added that time spent reading e-mail would decrease by 30 percent if unwanted messages are eliminated.

E-mail and Internet use at work is one of the fastest-growing concerns companies have, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) said yesterday. The group's research indicates that 70 percent of companies now have written policies about e-mail use.

Mr. MacDonald compared the unneeded e-mail to commercial spam, which often comes in the form of solicitations for pornographic Web sites or financial scams. He referred to the internal business e-mail menace as "occupational spam."

Forwarded jokes and chain letters are the most common problems, he said, as are unnecessary e-mail replies.

The Gartner survey also showed that employees spend about 49 minutes per day managing e-mail in the workplace, with 24 percent of respondents indicating that e-mail occupied more than an hour of their time per day.

E-mail use at work is rising overall, the survey said. Of those surveyed, 56 percent said they used e-mail at work more than they did in the previous 12 months, and the average respondent said they used e-mail 38 percent more often.

"It's getting worse," Mr. MacDonald said, "and it's going to continue to get worse."

Human resources experts said the Gartner report was in line with their own observations and research.

"We're not surprised," said Kristin Bowls, media affairs manager for the Alexandria, Va.-based SHRM. "We've seen various reports suggesting [the time spent using e-mail] may be even longer."

The guidelines outlined in companies' Internet policies vary, Miss Bowls said, but most include rules that limit use of e-mail for nonbusiness purposes and prohibit the circulation of potentially offensive material. Some, but not all, company policies have e-mail etiquette guidelines to cut down on unwanted e-mail and "occupational spam."

Mr. MacDonald said companies' written policies are often ineffective because as few as 5 percent to 10 percent of employees know about them.

Employees at Fannie Mae, the largest publicly owned company in the Washington area, must sign a form annually indicating they have read the mortgage lender's Internet policy and will abide by it, said Alfred King, a spokesman for Fannie Mae.

The Internet-use agreement is considered supplemental to Fannie Mae's overall corporate Code of Conduct. In part, the company's Internet-use policy reads, in all capital letters, that computer resources are "maintained solely for Fannie Mae's business purposes, and are considered business assets. As a result you must use them in a responsible, respectful and professional manner that's in compliance with our code of business conduct and with other corporate policies."

But Fannie Mae's policy has no guidelines on e-mail etiquette.

"We just try to drill into people that communication should be sent to those who want to see it," Mr. King said.

Miss Bowls dismissed the notion that the time wasted on e-mail and the Internet has simply replaced time wasted doing other things.

"As long as there have been jobs and employees, there has been time wasted on the job," she said. "But as technology increases, the sheer number of potential distractions has increased."


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