There is an epidemic in Corporate America that must be stopped! What is it? The consistent use or misuse of the Reply All function in email. As a result, I believe it should be disabled in ALL email programs. Or, perhaps we need to create a new security function called the Reply All police to crack down on the abusers.
When I think of my own email volume daily, I would estimate that a minimum of 20 messages per day are from employees using the reply-all function to respond to a conversation, instead of limiting his or her response to the critical parties.
It all starts innocently enough. A leader sends out an email to a large group congratulating an employee or two on a big achievement or promotion. One of the recipients hits reply all and says “Congratulations Tony and Susan”. This leads to 1, 5, 10 or 20+ responses from other responders saying the same congratulations. These reply all responses may have filled hundreds of email in-boxes across your company.
- What should the congratulators do instead? Only reply to the employees being congratulated, and perhaps CC his or her manager, if necessary.
Then we have the escalators. These employees are not happy with something which usually is impacting an end customer, and instead of contacting the process owner directly, they send an email to a plethora of people including their boss, the process owner’s boss, random employees and maybe their own mother! This leads to reply all after reply all, of other employees responding with their take on the situation, often adding others to the email chain. What started off as an escalation to five people, ends up as an email reply-all chain of 25 people.
- What should the escalator do instead? If the issue really is severe, they should be picking up the phone and contacting the process owner directly. Only after trying that method and actually waiting a bit for a response, (the waiting is key!) should they get others involved if they are not satisfied. And, ideally the escalation should go to the fewest people possible.
The reply all escalation chains actually make the resolution take LONGER than if proper channels are used. When everyone is copied, no one really knows who is taking ownership of the situation or the next step.
Consider for a moment, the amount of reply-all email glut at your company and the time wasted on addressing it. I work for a company with about 4600 employees. If each employee receives a minimum of 10 reply all emails per day and spends an average of 1 minute per email (opening it, skimming it and possibly replying or deleting) that would be 46,000 wasted minutes per day or about 200,000 hours per year. That is the equivalent of 96 people in a year and if we assume that the average employee makes $75K, that is $7M in wasted salaries per year. Yikes!!!
Here are five tips to reduce the reply-all email madness:
- If there truly is a reason to use reply-all, please update the subject line to show what has changed. For example: from “Subject: County Hospital G5 Escalation” TO “Actions Taken Through 1PM: County Hospital G5 Escalation”.
- In addition, if you see a reply-all chain in your department that should be stopped, you may want to reply all with this “Pls take off email: County Hospital G5 Escalation” and then add a note at the top recommending that staff take the content into a phone discussion.
- If you want one of your staff members do to something on the chain, you may want to reply just to them (not reply-all) with their name in the subject line: “Susan-County Hospital G5 Escalation”. When people see their name in a subject line, it usually urges them to stop and open up that email first.
- When you are sending out an email to a large group and you want to avoid any reply-all chains, you can try two options. If you use Microsoft Outlook, you can set up a template with the Reply-All disabled, and then choose that template for certain messages. This takes about a ten minute investment to set up initially, but then takes not extra time later.
- You can also simply state “Please do not reply all” in the body of the email. Just recently I sent out an email and said something like, “I will be sending out an update to this distribution at 1PM. If you have any questions or comments please contact me directly. Let’s avoid using reply-all” No-one replied all.
Did you hear about the woman who thought she met her soulmate? She was in love, but then he hit reply-all. The break-up was so sad, and she did it via text message. 🙂
Just for fun, you may want to check out this article, “The 7 people you meet in reply-all hell”, on Esquire.com.