Email is stressing people out and keeping people up at night, according to a new survey

Turns out, people check their inbox more than a dozen times per day and some people are even losing sleep over emails, but few would classify their habits as an addiction.

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Image: GettyImages/photoschmidt

In 1971, Ray Tomlinson sent the first piece of electronic mail into the digital ether. Over the ensuing decades, email has transformed collaboration at a distance; evolving from a pioneering computer engineering milestone to an omnipresent part of the 9-to-5 grind for many professionals. On Sunday, e-commerce web studio, TaskHusky, published a post entitled "The State of Email Addiction in America" highlighting habitual email checking habits with data parsed out along state lines, age groups and more.

People check their inbox more than a dozen times per day and some people are even losing sleep over emails, but few would classify their habits as an addiction.

"We were really interested in exploring the reality of email addiction, as there has been a lot of conversation around phone addictions and increased screentime, especially during the pandemic. While we expected to find that some people were addicted to their email to at least some extent, we were surprised to see exactly how much control it has over people," said Kalina MacKay, a research assistant with TaskHusky.

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Checking the inbox and email stressors

The report is based on a survey conducted from late April through early May and includes responses from 2,342 U.S. adults. On average, respondents said they check their email 14 times per day and they spend an average of 1.69 hours per diem "checking and replying to emails."

Even though respondents said they check their email more than one dozen times per diem, less than one-fifth of respondents (18.3%) said they would describe themselves as email addicts, per the raw dataset. Nearly one-quarter of respondents reported losing sleep due to a work email and 57% "feel pressured" to respond to emails "promptly" with about half of respondents (52.8%) saying they respond to less urgent emails in under four hours.

In order, the biggest stressors related to email are "crafting a formal response," replying "quickly," and maintaining an orderly inbox. Interestingly, 60% said they think it's important to "have no unread emails" in their inbox and about half (48.5%) said they "feel anxious" about unread emails.

Generational email habits

A portion of the report illustrates respondent data based on age groups and gender. Men are less likely than women to feel pressure to promptly respond to emails. On average, men said they check the inbox 16 times per day; slightly more than female respondents (13), according to TaskHusky's raw data. Gen Zers said they started checking their emails "regularly" at 17; a few years earlier than the age reported by millennial respondents (20).

"Nearly half of respondents feel anxious about unread emails and a quarter have lost sleep over an email. Additionally, we were interested in the degree of variation among demographics (gender, age, and location). It's not surprising that email addiction is starting at a younger age, but this is a trend we will likely continue to see progress with time," MacKay said.

State-by-state email trends

At the state level, Mainers top the national list with the most frequent email checks per diem (35). The Pine Tree State ranks just ahead of runner-up Iowa (29.6) and No. 3 Utah (22.8) with West Virginia (21.4) and Michigan (20.7) rounding out the top five. On the flip side, Washington boasts the least per diem email checks at 9.1. The Evergreen State ranks just ahead of Oregon (9.4), Illinois (9.7), Maryland (10) and Mississippi (10.3), in order.

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In the digital era, those so inclined can peruse their inbox on a host of devices at virtually anytime. That said, three-quarters of respondents said they check their email when they are bored and just under half said they check their email as they spend time with their family members and friends. Even on holiday, people feel the urge to scan the inbox with 69.3% of respondents stating they check their email on vacation.

Nocturnal email habits

People are also apparently guilty of nocturnal email checking with 46% of respondents reporting checking their email "at night when they can't sleep." Half of the respondents said they check their email in the morning while they are still in bed and 58.9% said they check the inbox at night and during the weekend.

With the switch to remote work, many workforces are leveraging a vast suite of collaboration tools like instant messaging services and video call platforms. Round-the-clock video calls have led to so-called Zoom fatigue and the majority of respondents (62%) said they would prefer if meetings were to take place over email instead.

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