We are in the midst of the Great Resignation, with employees leaving their jobs in record numbers.
More than 24 million people quit their jobs in the second half of 2021; about 4.3 million people in December alone.
And one of the main drivers of this mass work exodus?
Employees are tired of feeling overwhelmed with their work. So if you want to keep top talent at your company, it’s important to do everything you can to help your team avoid this overwhelm – including managing their email.
But how exactly do you do that? Let’s look at five tips to help your team get their inboxes under control, keep burnout at bay, and improve employee retention at your organization.
Why is beating email overwhelm so important?
First things first. Before we jump into how you can help your team beat email overwhelm, let’s quickly touch on what email overwhelm is and why it’s an absolute must to help your team avoid it.
As the name suggests, email overwhelm is the experience of being completely overpowered by your inbox. When you can no longer control email flow in your inbox, far more emails arrive every day than you could ever sort through and respond to. Over time, the number of unread, unsorted, and unanswered emails keeps growing until the number is so great that you feel stressed every time you open your inbox.
If it sounds stressful, that’s because it is. And when your team struggles with email overload, it can have a variety of adverse effects, including:
- Decreased productivity. Dealing with email overwhelm takes time and energy that your team can spend on more critical tasks. This can lead to reduced productivity overall.
- Missing important emails. When your team deals with hundreds (or even thousands!) of emails, important messages can easily get lost in the clutter, or they can have a hard time tracking down an important email when needed. This can lead to many negative business outcomes, such as losing a key customer or missing an important meeting.
- Higher risk of burnout. It’s not called email overwhelm for no reason. Email overwhelm is overwhelming. And when your team is in a constant state of overwhelm, they’re at greater risk of burnout, and you’re at greater risk of losing them to a hostile work environment.
Letting emails get out of hand can seriously impact your team. But if you support your team properly and help them manage their emails, it can have many positive effects, including:
- Increased productivity. When your team isn’t worried about the mess in their inboxes, they can better focus on the work that matters. This increases both individual and team productivity.
- More time and less risk of burnout. Dealing with a cluttered inbox is time-consuming. By eliminating email overwhelm, you give your team that time back, helping them feel less overwhelmed (and less likely to burn out) overall.
- Greater ability to log off at the end of the day. For many people, simply knowing how to sort through and reply to hundreds of emails can make it difficult to relax outside of business hours. Allowing your team to shut down after working hours makes it easier to disconnect, which is key to work-life balance.
5 tips to avoid email overwhelm
If you want to create a productive, supportive work environment and retain top talent at your company, helping your team avoid email overload is non-negotiable. But how do you do that?
1. Set clear parameters for how and when to use email
Inboxes can quickly spiral out of control when employees don’t understand how and when to use email. Without clear parameters, employees can easily send too many emails, send emails too frequently, and send emails to the wrong contact. You get the picture.
Without clear email parameters, you may find employees:
- Sending multiple emails when they should be reaching out through your company’s messaging platform
- Hitting “reply all” on emails with multiple cc’s
- Emailing outside of office hours
- Sending multiple emails back and forth instead of leveraging available technology (for example, sending several emails to schedule a meeting when your company uses scheduling software that eliminates the need for emails)
Luckily, there’s a simple, straightforward solution: setting clear policies and procedures around how and when to use email and then getting everyone on your team (and, ideally, within your organization) on board with those policies and procedures.
Having clear parameters for email usage prevents your team from having to sort through unnecessary, excessive, or redundant emails. This is key to controlling email overwhelm. So think about how you want your team to use (and not use!) email. Then develop guidelines for your team around these best practices.
While the “right” way to use email varies by team and organization when designing your policies and procedures, consider the following:
- Appropriate and inappropriate use cases for email
- Hours of email operation. Is it ok to send an email outside of business hours, or should someone wait until the next day?
- Expected response times
- Appropriate follow-up email cadence. How long should team members wait before sending a follow-up email?
- Guidelines for cc’ing colleagues
- Categorizing or labeling urgent emails like out-of-office emails with a specific subject line
Be specific. The clearer you are on how email should and shouldn’t be used, the better you can help your team beat email overwhelm.
2. Make organization a priority
When you open your inbox, see 1000s of unread emails, and have no idea which emails need a reply (non-urgent requests or marketing emails), it can be overwhelming for even the best employee.
So, if you want to help your team avoid email overwhelm, help them organize their inboxes.
Ask them what they find to be their biggest challenges with their inboxes. Then invest in email management tools to help them overcome these challenges and control their inboxes better.
- If your team is frustrated with constantly missing important or relevant emails, invest in a tool that prioritizes urgent emails and keeps them at the top of the inbox.
- If your team members feel stressed because their inboxes are messy and disorganized, invest in a tool that automatically filters emails into different folders based on category, sender, and urgency.
- If they’re drowning in an inbox of unnecessary or unwanted emails, use a tool that unsubscribes them from unwanted marketing or phishing emails.
The more organized your teams’ inboxes are, the better they can manage them, and the less likely they’ll experience email overwhelm.
3. Block out time for emails
If employees check their email every five minutes or feel like they need to check their email now and then, they struggle to get their work done.
Rather than creating an expectation of constant connectivity and instant email replies, help your team develop better email boundaries by setting specific times to block during the workday to manage their inboxes.
For example, instead of having your team check their email constantly throughout the day, have them block three 30-minute blocks a day for different activities.
Giving your team dedicated time and space to manage their email prevents email from spilling over into the rest of the day. This can help increase focus and productivity and keep email overwhelm in check.
Tip: Some urgent emails need immediate attention. So, you should set up a backup system for such situations. For example, you can ask team members to set an out-of-office reply. If someone has an urgent request that can’t wait until the next email block, they can follow the specified instructions in the automated email response.
4. Create email templates
Another factor that contributes to email overwhelm is writing and sending the same email over and over again throughout the day.
But the good news? If this groundhog-type email is causing your team to become inundated, there’s a simple solution: email template builder.
Creating email templates for the types of emails your team sends and receives most often can save time and energy. Instead of starting from scratch and writing a new email each time (which can be multiple times a day or even multiple times an hour depending on the email), your team just needs to copy and paste the template and customize it with the recipient’s name or other relevant details and press submit. Email customization is faster, easier, less tedious, and can help your team better manage their email.
Some helpful email templates you can use:
- Customer support
- Follow-up email
Bottom line? Your team sends tons of emails every day, many of which are virtually identical. Creating templates that help them send nearly identical emails more efficiently helps increase productivity and reduce burnout and frustration.
5. Lead by example
Teams turn to their leaders to learn how they work and what behaviors are acceptable within the company culture. So, if you’re constantly fretting over your 10,000 unanswered emails or cc your entire team on every email (relevant or not), they’ll follow suit. In other words, you can’t help your team avoid email overwhelm if you’re overwhelmed yourself.
To allow your team to manage their email better, set a good example. Model the behavior you want them to adopt. Show them how to engage with emails, manage inboxes, and stay organized.
If you want them to shut down completely at the end of the workday, don’t shoot down emails at 10 pm. If you want your employees to organize and manage their inboxes, organize your own inbox, then walk them through your process. If you want your employees to use email templates to save time, use them yourself, then share the time-saving benefits with your team.
You can’t tell your employees to do one thing and then do something completely different. When looking to help your team breakthrough email overload, you must first conquer it yourself.
Avoid email overload while enabling the best work
Your team can’t do their best work when they’re feeling overwhelmed. Email management makes it difficult to focus, get things done, and switch off. All of this leads to less productivity, less engagement, and an overall negative experience at work.
So what do you do to make it right? Try the above tips to stay focused and stay organized.
Is most of your time spent reaching out to customers? Learn what email automation is and how you can use it to your advantage.