For infographic based on the UK survey results click here.


Those of a certain age will remember the days when email did not exist and a working day was spent answering the phone, typing letters on a PC, and sending them by snail mail. And for most people, once you were at home, that was it – end of the work day.

Fast forward two decades or so and the last thing you see when your head hits the pillow at night is that flashing light and buzzing sound telling you that you’ve got more emails. If you’re haven’t experienced that itch to take a look at the latest entry in your inbox, well done! If you couldn’t resist and had to check (once again) your email before falling asleep, then you are in very good company.

According to GFI Software’s latest survey,  one in four US respondents check their work email at least once a day in personal time, while 9.8% continue to check email in real-time even before and after work. A generation of emailaholics, indeed!

The reality is that GFI’s study into email user habits has revealed a stark increase in the way that work email is encroaching into the personal lives and downtime of staff. Just over 40% admit checking email multiple times a day or in real-time through pre-work mornings, evenings, weekends and days off.

Building on the inaugural 2013 study, this year’s research into how employees interact with email expanded its focus to look at the impact of mobility and BYOD on email consumption. The survey found that 13.6% of those surveyed now use a smartphone or tablet as their primary device for sending and receiving email, thus ensuring that staff are wired into work email 24 hours a day, seven days a week unless they turn the device off.

The blind, independent study was conducted for GFI Software by Opinion Matters, surveying 500 US workers from companies with up to 500 employees. A similar study was conducted in the UK.

Key findings from the US survey include:

  • Nearly a third of those surveyed (31.2%) respond to work email within 15 minutes of receiving it during work hours. A further 23.4% of respondents answer work email within half an hour during office hours
  • When sending email, the same respondents are less fussy about response times, with only 10.6% expecting a reply inside 15 minutes and only 18.2% expecting one inside half an hour. Most expect a reply within one hour (23%) or at least within a day (21.8%) of sending a message
  • However, just under a third (31.8%) still resist the temptation to look in on their company email outside of the working day

Email eating into social occasions

The survey revealed a substantial encroachment of work email not only into personal time, but also into social events and other milestone non-work occasions. For example:

  • Nearly two thirds (63.6%) of those surveyed admit to checking work email while on holiday
  • While attending an event at their child’s school, 6.7% have gone through work email
  • A further 5% have checked email during a wedding ceremony
  • Even during a funeral, 3.8% have checked mail
  • …and a further 3.8% owned up to checking their work email while their spouse was in labour

Email is not just a critical business communications tool, but as the data shows it is relied on – perhaps too much – as a virtual filing cabinet and storage repository. As Sergio Galindo at GFI commented: “This kind of approach can all too easily breed an ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ attitude towards email safety, security and backup, which is dangerous ground for any company to be on given the value of the data tied up in an organization’s mailboxes and the disruption that is caused when just one user suffers email disruption, let alone the whole company.”

The research data revealed that 55.8% use their email mailbox as a storage tool to file and retrieve documents, a potentially dangerous and ineffective way to manage email that creates over-size mailboxes that in turn become prone to data corruption, slow email performance and high server-side storage costs.

The plus side is that despite the substantial encroachment of email into people’s personal lives, people continue to view email positively, with 83% of those surveyed considering email to be a blessing rather than a curse, which is a great endorsement of the technology and the way it is has transformed both business and personal communication.

The surge of mobile devices

Ubiquitous availability of cheap smartphones, tablets and mobile connectivity has undoubtedly helped blur the boundaries between work and personal time. However, the survey data showed that just 9.8% of respondents were using smartphones as their primary email device, with only 3.8% using tablets. With the cost of basic tablets already as low as $40 and pre-paid smartphones below $100, this is a surprising statistic.

The surge in mobile device use has made casual work email use harder to resist, with 30% using their mobile device to check email on holiday, while 28.6% have risked company email security by connecting their device to public Wi-Fi hotspots while away. Only a fifth (21.4%) turn off their smartphone while on holiday, although nearly half (49.4%) claim they disable or otherwise disconnect work email from their phone for the duration of their time off.

The research also revealed that conventional desktop PCs continue to be the main device people use for dealing with email (60%) while laptops are a surprisingly distant second, used by 24.2% of respondents as their primary email device.

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