As a consultant helping small business owners improve productivity, one of the most common questions I get asked is: "How many work emails per day is normal for my team?"
It‘s an important question. Email has become unavoidably intertwined with our work, with the average office worker sending and receiving over 120 emails per day. That‘s a 50% increase since 2014!
However, excessive email is linked reduced productivity, poorer decision making, and increased stress. Finding the right balance is key for any high-performing team.
So what‘s the magic number? From my experience, here‘s what small business owners and managers need to know:
Email Overload Has Become a Productivity Crisis
The growth of email overload in recent years has been staggering:
- Email traffic is expected to hit 361 billion emails per day by 2023, up from 247 billion in 2019.
- Knowledge workers spend over 2.6 hours per day just on email – 28% of their total workload.
- 64% of employees cite email as a contributor to workplace stress and anxiety.
- High email loads reduce IQ and analytic ability by an average of 10 points.
This data shows that excessive email now poses a major threat to small business productivity, creativity and wellbeing.
As a business owner, I implemented a "no internal email Fridays" policy. The face-to-face communication was awkward at first, but ultimately much more constructive. We made faster, more aligned decisions without getting bogged down by lengthy email chains.
Benchmarking a "Normal" Email Load
So what constitutes a normal or reasonable email load? While dependent on role and industry, some useful benchmarks I reference with clients are:
- 15-20 emails – Optimal for focus and progress on critical tasks
- 20-40 emails – Common level that most employees can manage effectively
- Over 40 – Inbox reach and ability to action emails may be impacted
- Over 100 – High risk of overload, poorer decisions and delays likely
Interestingly, a McKinsey study of executives found those with the best company performance capped daily emails at 40 or less. They spent less time in their inbox and more time leading.
Tailoring Email Policies for Your Team
Setting organization or department-wide email guidance can help rein in excessive emails. Some options I typically recommend small business clients consider:
1. Set quota guidelines, e.g. maximum 20 internal emails per team member per day.
2. Have "no email" blocks on calendars, for example Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
3. Delete emails encouraging face-to-face chat, e.g. "Let‘s catch up in person to discuss rather than email."
4. Institute mandatory inbox caps, such as inbox must stay below 100 unread messages outside peak periods.
The exact policies will depend on the dynamics of your business. Monitor what works over time and continue optimizing – don‘t just set-and-forget!
Achieving Your Optimal Email Balance
Email can either facilitate or hinder small business productivity. Set reasonable policies, but also keep agile to ongoing change.
As a business leader, model the email behaviors you want employees to follow. Be ruthless in capping emails at 40 per day, allowing you to spend more time on high-value strategic thinking. Maintain face-to-face communication as the primary means of directing your team for faster execution.
Finding your optimal balance takes time, but will transform how your business communicates and delivers results!
Hope this gives you a benchmark for what might be considered a "normal" email load. As always, I‘m happy to chat 1-on-1 to tailor advice for your unique management situation.