Study Reveals Australian Office Workers Stressed by Irrelevant Email Overload

IBM survey finds Aussie workers think organisations should offer more collaboration tools to increase flexibility and reduce workload

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Sydney, Australia - 02 Nov 2010: IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that nearly half of Australian office workers find irrelevant and unanswered emails are a key contributor to workplace stress. As many as 45 percent of the 629 surveyed respondents, all of whom are in a management role, agree that having too many irrelevant emails in their inbox makes for a stressful workplace, with 7 percent finding it very stressful; whilst half of respondents agreed that unanswered emails are also contributing to workplace stress.

When questioned about the need to constantly respond to emails, 48 percent of workers found this stressful, and in organisations with more than 500 employees this rose to a high of 54 percent, indicating employees in larger companies are struggling to deal with higher volumes of email.

The survey shows that whilst email remains the most commonly used collaborative tool in the workplace, with 97 percent agreeing as such, email is often overwhelming or used in the wrong way, leading to avoidable workplace stress.

James Gorry, Business Unit Executive, Lotus Software, IBM Australia and New Zealand, commented on the findings, “Australian workers are looking for alternative ways to work more productively, and to find tools that can help alleviate workplace stress, rather than increase it. It is clear that Australian organisations are missing an opportunity to encourage the adoption of enterprise grade social networking tools, alongside the old favourites including email, as these technologies can both increase employee morale as well as drive a more efficient workforce.”

Email remains the preferred communication platform, but some managers guilty of using it in the wrong way

Despite the many alternative forms of communication, unsurprisingly email remains the preferred communication platform. The majority of managers (58 percent) still regard email as the most preferred form of business communication, followed by face to face meetings (23 percent) and telephone (15 percent). Examining the results by age group, Generation Y* in particular prefers email (68 percent), suggesting a strong reliance on this form of communication.

Predictably, the study also found that communication blunders in the office are commonplace, and another contributor to stress. Nearly three quarters (71 percent) of workers admitted that they have sent an email to the wrong person by mistake, and nearly half (47 percent) admitted hitting ‘Reply to All’ instead of ‘Reply’ or the opposite at sometime in the past. As many as 59 percent of managers have tried to recall an email but it was too late, and 49 percent have said something in an email which they have later come to regret.

Perhaps more worrying, the majority of respondents admitted that they have deliberately chosen to hide behind email, with 68 percent acknowledging they have sent an email when a phone call or a face to face meeting would have been more appropriate. As many as 52 percent admit to this kind of evasion on more than one occasion with men (56 percent) being more prone to this tactic than women (47 percent).

Current usage of alternative collaboration tools

Exploring the current usage of other collaboration tools in the workplace, the study found the following tools were used by some:

When asked about the availability of other forms of collaboration, including access to alternative social networking tools the results were surprisingly low, and most managers agreed that their organisations are yet to leverage social networking tools to their full extent:

Despite most organisations not yet embracing social networking tools in the workplace, some companies have made inroads with stand alone tools including:

Most managers see the business benefit of varied collaboration tools

Although email is pervasive, most managers would like to see more collaboration tools available in their organisations. Almost one in three (29 percent) would like instant messaging to be more available to help reduce the number of emails they receive. This opinion is even more widespread amongst the Generation Y age group (46 percent) who clearly believe embracing more instant collaboration tools would make good business sense.

Many managers recognise the business benefits that collaboration tools can bring; with half of respondents (50 per cent) agreeing it would be easier to work from home if they had more access to a broader set of collaboration tools. Again Generation Y stands out as more interested in these benefits, with 64 percent agreeing that they would realise increased flexibility.


Conducted by Galaxy Research for IBM, this research delivers an overview of email and communication related issues, and adoption and usage of social networking tools in Australian offices. The survey of 629 full time office working middle/senior managers, aged 18-64 years, was conducted in the third quarter of 2010.

* Generation Y:  generation of people born in the 1980s and 1990s.

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