- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

Do e-mails rule the office? Not necessarily. Electronic-message overload in the workplace is mostly an urban myth, according to a survey of business e-mail culture released Tuesday.
Contrary to popular belief, American workers are not floundering in spam those annoying and unsolicited messages that sell products and services or their normal e-mails, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which conducted the survey.
The survey found that the 57 million workers who use e-mail are content with it.
Only 15 percent of respondents receive more than 50 e-mails a day; almost two-thirds said they get no more than five messages daily; and 52 percent don't get spam at work.
Such findings go against recent press hysteria, which has claimed billions of unwanted spam messages and trite electronic chatter have beset the workplace.
Bosses who fret about employees dawdling with their e-mail can relax. About 75 percent of them spend less than an hour a day managing electronic mail.
"E-mailers are dead serious about the content of their e-mail," said project director Deborah Fallows.
Researchers anticipated "a backlash against e-mail not just against spam, but about the rising volume of all kinds of e-mail," she said.
Instead, they found workers to be downright happy with their e-mail, with "zero disillusionment."
Almost three-quarters of respondents said electronic messaging increased communications with others; almost two-thirds said it made them more "available" to co-workers; and 59 percent said it improved teamwork.
Another 43 percent said e-mails "offered them relief."
E-mail does not seem to get in the way of productivity, and actually may increase it. Seventy-eight percent said it did not cut into the number of hours they worked and 14 percent even said it made them work longer hours.
E-mail tends to inspire efficiency: 86 percent said it saves time; 70 percent said they check messages several times a day; and almost half said they responded to messages immediately.
Still, some office situations call for the personal touch.
Only 4 percent said e-mails were appropriate for "sensitive issues" and just 6 percent would use the messaging system to bring up "problems with supervisors," among other things.
"E-mail lacks the nonverbal 'information' that is conveyed in face-to-face conversation tone of voice, meaningful pauses, the hesitations and rephrasings," according to the study.
And those quirky "emoticons" that show up in e-mails the happy faces or clever uses of punctuation symbols "can be poor and often-annoying substitutes."
Naturally, some workers are better at composing and sending than others. The study found that 20 percent of the work force are "power e-mailers," who send and receive up to 70 messages a day, check mailboxes several times an hour and use the fancy functions on their message systems.
Power e-mailers "feel good about e-mail," the study found. But they are also more prone to the negative effects.
"More power e-mailers say their e-mail makes it impossible to get away from the office, makes them too accessible to others both inside and outside the company," according to the study. "They find greater hazards of e-mail causing misunderstandings, being distracting and causing stress."

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