Checking Email at Night, on Weekends & Holidays the New Norm for U.S. Workforce

Staff Report

Friday, May 17th, 2013

The conventional, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five-day work week is a thing of the past for the overwhelming majority of workers at small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs), according to a new survey on work-related email habits. Due to the widespread availability and use of smartphones and tablets, email is more accessible than ever and, as a result, it has become deeply embedded in the daily workplace and personal lives of most employees. The independent, blind survey of 503 employees in SMB workplaces in the U.S. was conducted by Opinion Matters on behalf of GFI Software. The results highlight employee habits around email usage, including response frequency during the work day as well as after hours.

The new 24/7 paradigm

  • Based on the reported email habits of survey respondents, the line between work and home life has become blurred. More than three-quarters of respondents (81%) said they check their work email on weekends, 55% check email after 11 p.m.and 59% keep on top of their work email while on vacation.
  • Outside of regular work hours, more than six in 10 (64%) check email at least once a day. 12% of employees said they check work email in real time beyond the standard workday.
  • One in 10 respondents admitted to checking work email at a child's school event, 9% at a wedding, and 6% at a funeral. An additional 6% said they logged into their work email while they or their spouse was in labor.
  • On the flip side, nearly one-third (30%) of employees also said they send personal emails from their work account.

Email used at the office more than any other form of communication

  • Despite the growing use of instant messaging platforms, email dwarfs other forms of office communication.  44% of respondents use email at work more than any other communications format, with 28% relying primarily on the phone, 22% on face-to-face, and 6% on instant messaging. 
  • Email is a constant presence in the lives of SMB employees during the workday. More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents said they typically reply to emails within one hour during work hours, with nearly one-third of them (32%) replying within 15 minutes.

An organizational and business intelligence tool

  • Many employees use email for more than just communicating. Well over half (58%) use it as a means of storing and retrieving information.
  • Nearly two-thirds (62%) of respondents use specific folders to organize their email for easier access, and 29% of employees archive their email.
  • The oldest saved email by a survey respondent was received back in 1994.
  • Less than one-quarter (24%) of SMB employees said they use their email as a business intelligence tool, identifying a massive missed opportunity to extract value from email data. 

Differences among regions and professions   

  • Employees in the Southwest are the quickest to respond to email, with 42% replying within 15 minutes of an email arriving. Only 27% of residents in the Midwest respond as quickly.
  • Residents of the Southwest are most likely to have checked their email while they or their spouse was in labor (14%). Just 3% of employees in the Northeast have done so.
  • Professionals who say they have checked email at a funeral are more likely to work in IT and telecommunications (14%) and finance (13%). People working in sales, media and marketing and health care said they have never checked email at a funeral. 
  • Legal (38%), IT and telecommunications (32%), and manufacturing (34%) professionals are more likely to respond to emails within 15 minutes. Professionals who think that responding to an email within one working day is sufficient are more apt to work in education (23%), retail, catering and leisure (20%) and arts and culture (20%).
  • Employees at larger companies are more likely to check email during off hours.  Two-thirds (66%) of respondents who work at companies with fewer than 10 employees  check email outside of regular work hours, while 75% of those who work at large companies said the same. 
  • During vacations, 74% of sales, media and marketing professionals said they check their email. In contrast, less than half (46%) of manufacturing and utilities employees do so.  

Overwhelmingly, email is viewed positively, not negatively   

  • Workers overwhelmingly appreciate the value of email, despite its omnipresence in daily life. 
    90% of respondents said email is a "blessing," with just one in ten (10%) considering it a "curse." Regardless of all the stresses and strains that a deluge of email can bring, it is still preferred to the way we used to work.

"Email has transformed the way we do business globally, but it has also had a fundamental impact on the work/life balance for many employees, especially in smaller organizations where speed of response to orders and queries is critical in retaining a competitive advantage against larger competition," said Phil Bousfield , general manager of IT operations at GFI Software. "The research results have affirmed how critical it is for organizations to manage the use of email effectively, not only to prevent employees from being overwhelmed by a deluge of data, but also to ensure that email is exploited as a revenue generator and benefit to the business, rather than an inconvenience."

"The research also revealed some worrying trends, including that many organizations are failing to efficiently use their collected email archives for customer relationship management and other business intelligence functions, and that many users are putting their email at risk by maintaining unnecessarily large Outlook PST repositories in order to use their inbox as a living database. This is inefficient and puts the organization at risk of substantial data loss from email archive corruption," Bousfield added.