The Email Complacency Quandary

Complacency is a growth threatening virus in most organizations. The warm and safe comfort zone, can lure people into becoming stagnant, and unaware that they have fallen prey to this seductive condition.

One of the biggest causes for complacency is that necessary evil called email. Think about it. For too many people, there is an almost addictive quality to email. The audible tone or the notification window appears indicating new mail, and like Pavlov’s dogs, people immediately check their inbox. And, there is an instant gratification for it. It stirs a feeling such as – “I must be important, as someone is sending me a message. If I were not here to receive it, the world might come to an end.” Okay, the last statement is a bit overdramatic, at least I hope.

However, I have come across far too many people, whose work life seems to be virtually tied to handling email. Are they complaining or actually bragging when they announce that they receive a couple of hundred emails a day? From my observations I can tell you that people feel much more needed and important, based on the number of emails they receive. One hundred is better than one. Maybe not one hundred times better, but still better. There must be a breaking point as to how many messages one could receive before going into an overwhelm-induced depression. However, like a badge of honor, I have heard horror stories of the numbers of emails people deal with every day. They must really be important, after all!

 So how does all this relate to complacency? Well for starters, people can easily get very comfortable in knowing that their workday will most likely revolve around email. The content is not always predictable, but the guarantee that there will be plenty of messages is re-assuring. And it seems doubtful that their jobs will ever be in jeopardy, given the volume of work they must do in handling all the mail coming in. So, people come in, login, and spend the day keeping the electronic chain letters moving forward.

Given that, how much of their time are they devoting to thinking about breakthrough ideas or disrupting the market place – the tough stuff required for growth these days? How willing are they to hit the sleep button on their devices, and actually challenge the way things are done, which requires some risk taking? The email rut is very inviting, when compared with the risk of trying to produce necessary, but perhaps unwelcomed change. And leading change is the kind of daunting work that usually requires people to move out of their comfort zones.

Are you beginning to see email complacency set in with your people? To the complacent, factors for stimulating growth, such as effective leadership and innovative thinking, are viewed as interruption from their work of handling email. So spending time reflecting on meaningful 360 feedback, having their ways of thinking challenged, or building relationships with colleagues around them is not the job. Nor is doing what is necessary to create and execute on remarkable visions for success, and enlisting people to get on board. These laptop-tethered folks do not have time or energy for such things.

It is a fact that there are some whose endless email work is a long way from complacency. For example, there are people in a customer service role, whose job is contributing to a great customer experience. This requires ongoing interactions with customers, and email may be the primary vehicle. Emails for them are as essential as orders into a sales center. That work directly reaffirms the customers’ relationships with the company, and hopefully paves the way for ongoing business. It is also true that one can be doing some real innovative, business growth work through email. I am not advocating eliminating email. Rather, I am suggesting that you consider how the handling of threads and threads of “reply all” type messages, can result in a rather comfortable and risk free full time job, with a limited amount of growth-oriented, value-added work resulting.

So, be mindful of the email/complacency quandary, and never let the comfort of email become a substitute for the tough work of real growth, which your organization is counting on.

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