Email response times: Four ways to fight the urge to fire off a rapid reply

And, anyway, what is a realistic email response time?

People often feel that when it comes to email they are always on call. But the pressure to answer emails immediately should be resisted, says communications expert Monica Seeley.

Technology is accelerating email response times, creating unrealistic expectations, email overload, errors and costly workplace stress.

A few years ago, a response to an email was expected within a few days or even a week. However, Mesmo Consultancy's latest survey reveals that today a quarter of us expect a response within the hour.

Over a third of us, expect a reply within two hours and over two-thirds within half a day. Only a quarter of us think a response within one day is acceptable and only seven percent of us are prepared to wait two days.

Graph showing who expects the fastest email response times?
Image: Monica Seeley/Mesmo Consultancy

Today's always-on culture of email, smartphones and social media means we expect almost instant responses to our communications.

We pressure ourselves into thinking that most email has to be answered and often as soon as it arrives. We are confusing speed of email response with effectiveness and allowing technology to dictate and potentially damage the way we work.

Some examples from clients include requests for meetings sent half an hour before the meeting. Yet critical participants are already in meetings with no access to email. The organiser then wonders why key people are missing.

The recipient may be in a front-line customer service role - for example, a store manager - dealing with a client, yet he or she is being pressured for a reply to an email, often from an internal sender. This pressure for fast responses is just another example of the stress-induced email overload.

Graph showing the time within which an email response is expected
Image: Monica Seeley/Mesmo Consultancy

However much of the pressure for fast replies is in the mind of the recipient. Many senior managers say they are often surprised by how quickly people respond to their emails.

That responsiveness is borne out by the survey, which shows that most respondents - 83 per cent - feel internal senders expect a quicker reply than external senders and 87 per cent believe senior managers expect a faster response than junior managers.

Similarly, more than three-quarters, or 76 per cent, of respondents strongly believe that people picking up email on smartphones such as a BlackBerry or an iPhone expect...

By Monica Seeley

Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email management and runs the Mesmo Consultancy. She is a visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, London, and has just written her third book, Brilliant Email, published by Pearson.