Overly Responsive Email Behavior

From time to time, management asks for a solution to measure email response times, along with per-end-user email traffic comparisons. In some cases, management wants to know how "responsive" the staff is to inquiries from customers or from the field. In other cases, companies want to measure productivity across work teams or identify issues with end-user productivity.

In many cases, we would argue that these requests are based on a fundamentally flawed assumption.

The call center scenario is an exception to the rule, where service-level agreements (SLAs) often mandate an initial response to a customer or internal service request, with penalties necessitating ongoing management of key performance indicators (KPIs), including response times.

While quantitative metrics can be a good indicator of business performance, they are not an end in and of themselves. We commonly hear of people bragging about how many messages they get every day. It has come to be somewhat of a status symbol in some circles -- "I get 400 a day" or "I came back from vacation and had 3,000" are commonly heard comments around the watercooler these days. And we all know individuals who are 'hyper-responsive': those who reply to virtually any email day or night within minutes, or even seconds.

Rather than being a sign that you have climbed some imaginary email power-user ladder, having high mail volumes is more likely the result of your having subscribed to many distribution lists or a "CC me please" culture within your organization. Being hyper-responsive to email around the clock suggests that you live an interrupt-driven work life and that you likely have a hard time concentrating for prolonged periods of time. Your overall productivity is likely to be reduced as a result, making you less valuable.

Measuring email response times and sent/received volumes provides interesting metrics that tell you more about someone's behavior than their value as an employee. Many people are intensely productive but block hours or even days of email-free time, in order to focus on priority projects. When you hear managers or others in the company suggesting that there is some inherent value in someone's ability to be instantly responsive to any message that comes their way, or in someone's ability to process a massive amount of email, think again.

... David Sengupta

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