If you’re one of those people with an inbox that shows 20,000-plus unread emails, then it might be particularly interesting to know that some consumers have a goal of achieving Inbox Zero, but fewer than in the past. This occurs when you’ve acted on every email by either deleting, responding or delegating to it.
Interesting to note that those who do reach Inbox Zero describe it as relieving. In India, where 70% achieve inbox zero, most describe it as amazing. However, in the US, fewer than half of all workers achieve this state of supposed nirvana.
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This is just one of the many facts gathered as part of Adobe’s 5th annual survey of 1,000 US workers to find out how they handle emails, social media apps and workplace communication. Their responses were categorized by generation, whether they were Boomers (born between 1946 to 1964), GenX (born between 1965 to 1976), Millennials (born between 1977 to 1995), or Gen Z (born after 1995). There were even a smattering of Traditionalists (born in 1945 or earlier).
Bridgette Darling, senior product marketing manager for Adobe Campaign, said there’s less a sense of relief from responding to every email these days. “Fewer people are worried about it. They receive so much email, they’re no longer trying to get Inbox Zero.” About one-third of those surveyed even went so far as to call it “borderline OCD” to try to achieve Inbox Zero.
Critically, the survey concluded that email “is not dying or on a slow death march,” Darling said, despite the emergence of new devices, and other ways of communicating, both in business and personally, i.e. text messaging and messaging apps.
The time people spend checking email has declined since 2016, but the survey revealed most people feel five hours daily is “just right” to spend checking email (this includes responding to email), reserving one to two hours for personal email and three or more for work. “Still, ” Darling said, “Three hours in an eight-hour day is not insignificant.”
Nearly everyone surveyed checks personal email or their social media before work, but “they are increasingly unlikely to check work email” when they wake up in the morning, Darling said. Unsurprisingly, more personal email is checked at work than work email is checked outside of work. Many workers check their personal email account at least once an hour, with that number increasing in India and France.
Generational differences are apparent in who checks social media apps the earliest in the morning. Among millennials, 38% say they check social media while still in bed, compared to 16% of Gen X’ers and 10% of boomers. After that, it evens out, with 27% of millennials, 28% of Gen X’ers and 20% of boomers checking social media as they either get ready for work, eating breakfast or having coffee.
Another interesting tidbit from the survey is which devices each generation uses to check email. 57% of millennials primarily use a desktop computer or laptop to check work email, but this drops to 18% for personal email. 79% of millennials prefer to use their smartphone to check personal email. Meanwhile, among Generation X, 62% use a desktop computer or laptop to check work email, and it drops to 29% for personal email. Among Gen X, 65% use a smartphone to check their personal email. With boomers, 70% check work email on a desktop or laptop and 45% check their personal email on a desktop computer or laptop, the same percentage that opt to check their personal email on a smartphone.
The survey, Darling said, is geared for both businesses and consumers, with results revealing consumers want emails to meet their interests, want businesses to know who they are emailing (they do not like impersonal mass emails and want their names spelled correctly), have to have that email be appropriate to location/season and, critically, be relevant, as “that’s the work–horse focus of any marketing program.” She warns businesses of “media fatigue,” the result of “too many” emails in inboxes.
The most common workplace communication tools among millennials surveyed were email (76%), phone (61%), face-to-face conversations/in-person meetings (63%), instant messaging (49%), and video conferencing or video chat (23%). Among Gen X respondents, the most-used tools were email (81%), phone (60%), face-to-face conversations/in-person meetings (64%), instant messaging (39%), and video conferencing or video chat (20%). The numbers were similar among boomers: email (77%), phone (58%), face-to-face conversations/in-person meetings (70%), instant messaging (29%), and video conferencing or video chat (12%)
What’s interesting is the difference between the tools used and the ones preferred. Only 11% of millennials and Gen X’er wanted to communicate via the phone, and only 9% of boomers. And yet around 60% of people have to use the telephone at work. The favored form of communication among millennials was face-to-face communications, at 31%. Same for boomers, at 43%. Among Gen X, 38% said they want to use email.
Another interesting finding is that despite the perception millennials live the “always–on” internet culture, more millennials are finding a better work–life balance. Millennials achieve a healthier way of life than the millennial stereotype.
More so than in the previous four surveys, Adobe’s latest study reveals millennials are “separating work–and personal–email checking, resulting in a more balanced lifestyle,” Darling said. “For the first time, more workers are not checking their work emails when they are on vacation, and that number continues to grow.” The least likely to check work email while on holiday are those who live in the U.K., Germany and Japan, and only 25% of millennials and Gen X-ers check work email multiple times while on vacation, while 33% check personal emails. Nearly half of boomers never check email on vacation, an increase in a whopping 34% from 2018. “People are getting healthier,” Darling said.
Regardless, email isn’t going away anytime soon. 18% of millennials and 6% of Gen X’ers surveyed even admitted to checking it while in the midst of a face-to-face conversation. Hey. It takes a lot of effort to reach Inbox Zero.