The human side of email

May 24, 2010 10:02 am Published by Leave your thoughts

By David Tomkinson

Working in organisations, there is one topic that seems to occur more frequently and more consistently than any other – the quantity of e-mails that leaders receive and the time it takes to deal with them. The ‘crackberry’ culture has managers scrabbling for their devices at every opportunity just to keep their head above water and minimise the time spent at evenings and weekends catching up. It occurs to me that, as with many inventions, e-mail has solved some problems but created many more. For example the boundary between home and work is increasingly blurred – one leader said to me the other day that they take their blackberry on the beach whilst on holiday!

Organisations don’t seem to be appreciating the problems that this is causing and how some simple changes to the behaviours across the business can have a disproportionate effect on how leaders are able to spend their time and, perhaps just as important, their overall well-being and stress levels. Poor e-mail discipline can result in

  1. Laziness (sending e-mails to the person at the next desk)
  2. ‘Back covering’ (copying everyone in to avoid any comeback)
  3. Substituting (sending a long complex e-mail instead of picking up the phone or having a meeting)

If we want our leaders to stop being in ‘Manager/Operator’ mode as often and in ‘Leader’ mode more of the time, we have to help them by including e-mail practices as part of any culture change we are trying to make happen.


The saying ‘there is no such thing as an organisation, just a series of conversations’ still holds true, but if we want our people to be at their best more of the time we have to help them to make a conscious decision about when a face to face or telephone conversation is needed rather than an electronic exchange. They also need to be taught how to e-mail effectively to get the best results, just as we used to be taught how to write letters and reports years ago. If we don’t the intended benefits of e-mail will be lost.

If you are interested in changing your company’s e-mail culture call me for a conversation on 0870 40 500 60 or (if chosen consciously!) send an e-mail to david.tomkinson at andpartnership.com (substitute the ‘at’ for a ‘@’) or fill in the form below.


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This post was written by David Tomkinson

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