2021 Email Overload Survey: Insights on How it Impacts Business and Productivity

Posted by Isaac on November 2, 2021

email clutter cost

Isaac

Content Marketer

Isaac is a content marketer, with experience working with global teams and business development. His background in ghostwriting, corporate training, and process engineering inform his data-driven but compelling storytelling approach.
Published on November 2, 2021
Last Updated on November 3, 2021

Properly managing your email accounts saps your time and productive energy. But, have you ever wondered what that cost actually is in terms of numbers? That’s what we wanted to find out.

To understand how email overload impacts employees and businesses, Mailbird conducts an annual survey.

This year, we surveyed 130 professionals via Typeform and collected information from 120 more through HARO. In total, we spoke to 250+ professionals from around the world. We asked them how many relevant emails they receive in a workweek, how they manage their inboxes, and how it has affected their productivity in 2021. 

If you’re short on time, here are some of the most interesting highlights:

  • A majority (61%) believe their personal email management methods are inadequate. yet few believe tech solutions like email apps and email clients are the solution (20%). Interestingly, 60% of those surveyed say they don’t have the time to learn non-tech alternatives.
  • Only 5% of businesses have training materials or employee manuals that go into detail on what or is not business critical communication or email management.

Our survey revealed several insightful email overload statistics. Here are 15 of the top statistics you need to know for 2021.

15 Cost of Email Overload Statistics to Know for 2021

15 Cost of Inbox Clutter Statistics to Know for 2021

We asked the professionals how much of their productive time went into email management in 2021, along with their predictions for 2022.

To highlight some key findings, here is a visual summary of the data we collected.

01. How many total emails from your business accounts would you say you receive in an average week?

Nearly 40% of respondents receive between 61 and 200 emails in a week. A little over 20% of participants receive less than that (zero to 60), and a third (34%) receive more (201 to 5000).

Total emails respondents receive in an average week

02. How much of your time do you spend managing your email accounts in a workweek?

A little more than a third of the respondents say they spend three to five hours a week managing their email. Some (28%) only spend two hours or less. However, 37% are spending six hours or more. 

This seems to correlate with the findings of the first question, as those receiving more emails will end up spending more time managing them.

Question 2: How much of your time do you spend managing your email accounts in a workweek?

03. Of the emails you receive, what percentage would you say are actually business-critical?

A little under a third of the participants say 10% or less of the emails they receive in a week are business-critical. Only 26% say that, at most, half of the emails they receive are business-critical.

Given the amount of time most respondents say they spend on email management (zero to 12 hours), that means 10.8 hours a week on average is spent on unproductive work.

Question 3: Of the emails you receive, what percentage would you say are actually business-critical (require your attention and impact the business)?

04. What would you say is your level of stress if you leave your work inbox unchecked?

Most participants (71%) say they have no stress after not checking their emails for a few hours. However, stress levels go up considerably after two weeks with nearly 44% saying they’d feel very stressed.

Question 4: What would you say is your level of stress if you leave your work inbox unchecked?

05. How would you rank these concerns when it comes to not checking email?

For almost half of all participants (49%), missing business-critical information is their biggest concern when it comes to not checking their emails. Around a quarter (26%) say their biggest concern is missing communication from a new client.

The concern ranked last (59%) is missing industry-relevant news or information.

These numbers look different when assessing job seniority (see below).

Question 5: How would you rank these concerns when it comes to not checking email?

06. Of these best practices, which have you used in the past year, or are currently using?

Over 75% of respondents say they have or are currently regularly unsubscribing from infrequently read newsletters. At only 10%, having a “Reply by XX Date” folder is the least-used email-management best practice observed.

This isn’t too surprising, as unsubscribing requires the smallest time investment to learn and implement. Having a “Reply by XX Date” folder, however, means a person would need to create a dedicated folder, practice using it, and consciously change their approach to email management.

Question 6: Of these commonly recommended email management best practices, which have you used in the past year, or are currently using?

07. Which would you say helped you better manage your email?

The majority of respondents (60%) say regularly unsubscribing from infrequently read newsletters has helped their email-management efforts. Setting up email filters is the second most useful email management best practice cited by 49% of the respondents.

Most email service providers (like Gmail) have some sort of smart filter, which would explain why it’s so high up on the list. Some email clients even allow for further customization of the filtering rules, allowing for stricter control of your inbox.

Question 7: Which would you say helped you better manage your email?

08. Do you feel the number of emails you’re receiving compare to last year is…

Most respondents are evenly split between receiving the same number of emails (41%) as last year and seeing their inbox volume increasing (40%).

Question 8: Do you feel the number of emails you're receiving compared to last is:

09. How adequate do you believe the current email management tools/practices your organization has in place are going into next year?

Most participants say the current email management tools/practices their organizations have in place are adequate (43%). The second-biggest category is those with no opinion at 34%. 

Question 9: How adequate do you believe the current email management tools/practices your organization has in place are going into next year?

10. What do you think will be the best solution to improving your current email management experience?

A little over 40% of the respondents say they believe the answer to a better email-management experience is learning and using better practices. The second-biggest category is those content with the solutions already in place (31%).

Tech solutions to email management, like dedicated programs, apps, and email clients, came in at 20%.

Labor solutions, like hiring an assistant, agency, or third party to help with email management, were preferred by a bit less than 5%.

Question 10: What do you think will be the best solution to improving your current email management experience?

11. What is the biggest roadblock to implementing this solution?

Unsurprisingly, time was the biggest barrier to implementing and/or learning a better way to manage email for most (60%) respondents.

Question 11: In regards to the previous question, what is the biggest roadblock to implementing this solution?

12. Compared to last year, how much of your productive energy would you say goes into email management?

A little less than half (43%) of the respondents say they expend some of their productive energy managing their inboxes. Only 17% say that the energy expenditure is very little.

Question 12: Compared to last year, how much of your productive energy would you say goes into email management?

13. Do you believe your company’s current email management practices are sufficient?

The majority of respondents say that their company’s current email-management practices are sufficient (62%). 38% disagree.

Question 13: Do you believe your company's current email management practices are sufficient?

14. Is the email management approach covered in your company’s employee handbook or during new hire orientation?

Despite a majority saying “yes” to the previous question, most respondents (63%) say that their companies do not cover email management in their handbooks or during new hire orientation. In fact, only 5% of respondents say that the topic is covered in detail.

Question 14: Is the email management approach covered in your company's employee handbook or during new hire orientation?

15. Is what is/is not a ‘business-critical communication’ covered in your company’s employee handbook or during new hire orientation?

Like with the previous question, the majority of respondents (59%) say that what is considered business-critical is not covered during new hire orientation or in their employee handbooks.

Question 15: Is what is/is not a 'business-critical communication' covered in your company's employee handbook or during new hire orientation?

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Breaking Down the Statistics

Breaking down the statistics

We dug a little deeper into the data we collected looking for interesting insights. Specifically, we wanted to the differences between: 

  • Differing company sizes 
  • Different levels of job seniority
  • Companies with versus those without email-management policies

By company size 

We looked at the top three company size ranges of the participants to see how they compared: 

  • 30% of the participants were at companies with two to ten employees, 
  • 25% at 11 to 50 employees, and
  • 22% were self-employed.

How self-employed professionals experience email

Self-employed individuals receive the least amount of emails of those interviewed. As a result, they also spend less time managing their email accounts on average.

Almost half say only between 0-10% of the emails they receive are actually business-critical.

Another is that they are evenly split between being content with their current email management practices, and believing they need to learn new best practices.

Self-employed email stats

How employees in businesses of 2-10 people experience email

Employees of companies with two to ten people spend the most amount of time managing their inboxes.

Around 60% of respondents in this group expect the number of emails they receive next year to increase or increase by a lot.

A majority (61%) in this group also believe their personal email management methods are inadequate.

Small business email stats

How employees in businesses of 11-50 people experience email

Employees of medium-sized companies receive the most amount of emails of those surveyed. Despite this, they spend less time managing their email accounts on average compared to employees of small businesses. They also report requiring more productive energy to manage their inboxes compared to other groups.

A sizeable number of respondents in this group (38%) believe the number of emails they receive will stay the same next year.

medium sized business email stats

Main takeaway

The larger the organization, the more likely it is to have official policies around email management and what constitutes business-critical communication. However, even for companies with 11 to 15 employees, that likelihood is still less than 50%.

TLDR: The larger the employee pool, the more productive energy it takes each individual employee to manage their inboxesAdd block

By job seniority

We wanted to see how job seniority and responsibility affect email prioritization and management. We broke the respondents into three categories:

  1. C-level (Owner, Director, Partner, or CXO), 42%
  1. Middle management (Senior, Manager), 41%
  1. Entry-level (Entry, Training, Unpaid, Other), 17%
What is your top concern when it comes to not checking your email?

Some Interesting differences between respondents of different job seniorities:

  • Responsibilities influence what determines the biggest concern when it comes to not checking email. For example, the biggest concern for C-level and middle management respondents is missing business-critical information.
  • With 0%, the C-level respondents don’t consider missing industry-relevant news or information a primary concern. 
  • That concern is far less for entry-level respondents. This can be explained in their performance being measured by how well they contribute to their teams.

By Company Email Culture

The majority of participants answered that their companies do not have policies related to email management or what constitutes business-critical communication. However, an interesting finding is that the companies with those concepts outlined saw their employees get more stressed on average the longer they went without checking their inboxes. 

Is what is/is not "business-critical communication" covered in your company's employee handbook or during new hire orientation?

Email Overload Management Best Practice Tips

Email management best practices

Email overload is incredibly costly when left unaddressed. That’s why, in addition to the general survey questions, we also asked participants to answer four open-ended questions. We wanted to learn their thoughts and frustrations when it comes to how they manage email overload.  

Below is a curated list of some of the responses.

What is your biggest frustration when it comes to email overall?

I spend too much time filtering out important emails from those that are not. Thanks to aggressive sales processes, you tend to get a lot of cold emails. As the CEO, missing out on even one important email can be costly. So I am forced to sift through all the emails.

– Ruben Gamez, CEO of SignWell

The size. There is a colossal amount of emails being dumped into people’s inboxes every damn day. Because of this, people tend to assume that if an email is from a company/business, it must be trash. You’re not even given a chance there and that honestly blows. 

– Alex Mastin, Founder and CEO of HomeGrounds

What bothers me the most is that communications conveyed by email might be miscommunicated and misunderstood by the recipient. They may interpret your message in entirely contradictory ways to what you intended, destroying the essence of the message and perhaps leading to conflicts and misunderstandings. Since an email lacks nonverbal communication, receivers may misread the entire content, which impedes effective communication.

– Gary Taylor, CEO of Book Your Data

It can be a distraction when I need to focus on the key drivers of the business. With email, sometimes people expect a reply urgently when it’s not actually that urgent. The pressure to respond as soon as possible pulls my attention away from working on things that actually make a difference to the business.

– Nathan Hughes, Marketing Director at Diggity Marketing

From the responses, a common frustration seems to be the cost high volumes of emails have on productivity. It takes time to read through and respond. Worse, it can divert attention away from other activities.

For any email management best practices you tried and stopped using, why is that?

Some email extensions I’ve tried have slowed down the loading speed of my Gmail account.

– Sam Molony, Digital Marketing Specialist at Mailshake

Waiting for a length of time to clean up my inbox. It’s just another form of procrastination for me, and the bigger the clean-up job gets, the more likely I am to miss something important.

– Carla Andre-Brown, Instructor at BCIT

I stopped using email filters, as this sometimes stops important emails from coming into my inbox.

– Fred Wilson, Agile & Software Consultant at nTask

Checking emails in a regular/specified time. It does not work for me due to the nature of my work as sometimes I have critical requests from our clients that can’t be missed.

– Anastasia Tatsenko, Head of Customer Success at NetHunt CRM

When the solution costs more than the problem is when most professionals abandon a prescribed best practice. The thing is, handling email overload doesn’t have to be complicated.

What is your personal approach to email management?

I like to schedule my time around my email: once in the morning and once in the evening right after I’m done with work. I usually take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes to see and respond to what’s in my inbox and move on with my day. Scheduling a particular time for email is important, especially if you’re relying on it to do good work. 

– Aleksandr Maklakov, CIO of MacKeeper.com

Receiving unnecessary messages and overcommunication on menial tasks is my #1 pet peeve when it comes to inbox clutter. As such, one of the most effective ways I have decreased unimportant work and maintained focus on the task at hand this past year is adhering to the 4 Ds: delete, delegate, defer, and do.

– Ryan Craver, CEO of Mallary by Matthew

The email best practice that I adopted in the last year is looking at each email that comes through and when I last interacted with each one. This has helped me to get rid of emails that I don’t need in my inbox, therefore allowing me to focus on the more important work emails that I receive. I now have a much more streamlined inbox with only work-related emails coming through. Every now and then it will start to clutter up a bit, but when I notice this happening, I’ll follow the same procedures and declutter it.

– Josh Wright, CEO of CellPhoneDeal

Lastly, to reduce inbox clutter, I recommend bucketing emails into your top five business verticals. For myself, this means: (1) shipping + supply chain management, (2) Digital Marketing, (3) social media + content management, (4) customer service, and (5) business strategy. 

– David Wolfe, Cofounder of Olivers Apparel

I filter email into four “buckets” and process them as they come into my inbox. The buckets are ToDo, Waiting, Backburner, and Done. As I or my VA processes the emails, they get put into the appropriate bucket until reaching Done!

Dan Holloway, Business Coach and Mentor

I used to be terrible about inbox clutter. At one point I had over 6000 (!) unread emails. It was causing me anxiety just to look at my inbox. I had to go start organizing. I made different folders based on priority–Urgent, Same Day, Next Day, This Week, This Month, Anytime–and created labels to match them. I unsubscribed from every newsletter I didn’t read and as emails came in, I started to label them appropriately. These sorted into my new folders and over time I was able to train my inbox to sort them automatically based on keywords, sender, etc.

– Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love

I go through each email and triage their priority (i.e., which ones require an immediate response and which can be pushed off for a few days). I then set my calendar by each email.

– Charlie Miller, Early Resolutions Officer at Ontario Ombudsman

There are several tools that can help with email overload and improve productivity. However, what these responses show is that any solution implemented needs to be deliberate.

What one thing would you say would improve online communication and collaboration for your employees/coworkers? 

Setting boundaries on times for email improved communication for my team. We don’t send messages between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., to encourage each other to actually stop working for the evening and find some semblance of work-life balance. 

– Wesley Exon, CEO of Best Value Schools

One of my biggest frustrations when it comes to email is when people don’t absorb the information that’s being sent or don’t even read the email properly. We encourage our employees to go through their email subscriptions at least once every 2 months to check how much of it they actually need in their inboxes. This helps them to stay more organized and avoid their inboxes becoming overly cluttered.

– Teri Shern, Cofounder of ConexBoxes

Learn something new every week. The online world doesn’t stand still, so you should learn, learn and learn. Our company is ready to compensate for prices for email-management courses, but the employees should want to learn.

– Emily Morgan, Finance Writer at Fit My Money

Virtual coffee chats. Working from different countries makes it challenging to get to know your coworkers well. Chances are, you don’t interact with some of the team members (at all or as much as with your closest colleagues), which may affect your willingness to reach out to them. I believe having a few informal chats a month may help build trust, allow people to open up, increase productivity levels and positively affect team spirit.

– Anastasiia Potashina, Community Manager at Digital Olympus

We have what’s called ”inbox 0” training for all new hires at 360Learning, which helps everyone keep on top of their emails and not get overwhelmed. We also have a low-email communication policy at work, so that helps.

– Robin Nichols, Content Lead at 360Learning

Train people back to write emails properly. With relevant subjects, with organized info, and stop being lazy and treating emails like social media messages.

– Michael Song, Marketing Communications Manager at London Pacific Property Agents Inc.

Over-communication. We’re working remotely and it’s not always possible to be ON all the time. Async is crucial and if you provide detailed information, it helps keep sanity and make collaboration seamless.

– Deb Mukherjee, Marketing Manager at Wonderment

We have a shared workspace, which offers great transparency to what we do.

– Roxana Motoc, Head of Marketing at SocialBee.io

The recommendations provided all vary. What seems to be important is that the internal communication strategy is treated seriously by the organization. Rules about when to sign off, how to communicate over email, and regularly checking in with remote employees are all important.

Conclusion

Depending on how it’s used, email can either be a big help or a big hindrance to a business. When used well, it scales communication unlike anything else. If used incorrectly, it becomes a source of stress because of all the clutter. 

Part of the reason we’re running this annual survey is to find out the potential costs associated with inbox clutter and email overload.

Mailbird would like to thank everyone who participated in this year’s survey. Their contributions were invaluable in putting together this article.

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