Spam Not A Problem at Work, Study Says

Spam is apparently not the workplace productivity drain that we’ve been led to believe.

Also, most Americans are pleased with the way e-mail has affected their work lives, and are not overwhelmed by it, according to a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Sixty percent of Americans who use e-mail at work reported that they receive 10 or fewer messages on an average day, according to a survey of 2,447 Internet users conducted in April and May.

Just 23 percent of work e-mailers said they receive more than 20 messages per day, and 6 percent said they receive more than 50, according to the survey.

Moreover, 52 percent of people who use e-mail at work said that no spam reaches their work inboxes. And 19 percent reported that less than 10 percent of their work e-mail was spam.

These figures run contrary to the general perception that American workers are inundated with e-mail and that the time spent processing spam is draining productivity.

“A small number of truly inundated work e-mailers have created most of the buzz about e-mail overload,” the report said. “While spam is a growing problem for personal e-mail accounts and for the information technology specialists and Internet service providers who are trying to staunch its flow, little spam reaches the on-the-job inboxes of American workers.”

One reason so little spam reaches work inboxes is that “business or organizational accounts are small prey compared to the rich targets presented by the big e-mail providers like AOL, MSN, Yahoo, or Hotmail,” the report said. Also, companies often take defensive measures such as filters that divert spam before it reaches employees’ inboxes. What’s more, many companies educate employees on how to avoid common spam traps, such as avoiding responding to spam, which often simply provides verification that their address is live and results in more spam, and avoiding posting their addresses in chat rooms or on message boards where spammers can harvest them.

Overall, about 62 percent of U.S. workers have Internet access and 98 percent of those use e-mail on the job, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project. This translates into about 57 million Americans with workplace Internet access, of whom 98 percent use e-mail on the job, the report said.

The survey also called into question the picture commonly painted of the average American worker increasingly beleaguered by work-related e-mail and spam.

“The snapshot of a typical American worker is of someone who spends roughly half an hour of the workday processing e-mail, including up to about 10 incoming messages and five outgoing ones,” said the report.

Eighty six percent of those who use e-mail at work said it saves them time. Of those, 43 percent say it saves them a lot of time, 28 percent said it saves them some time, and 15 percent said it saves them a little time.

Seventy-seven percent of work e-mailers said e-mail helps them keep up with events at work. Sixty-three percent said e-mail is more effective for making appointments than using the phone or talking in person. Not surprisingly, 67 percent said they find e-mail most effective for editing documents, but 85 percent said they’d rather have a conversation than use e-mail when dealing with workplace problems and other sensitive issues.

Seventy-two percent said e-mail helps them communicate with more people, and 59 percent said it improves teamwork. Also, 62 percent said it makes them more available to coworkers. However, about one-third said e-mail makes them a little too accessible.

Also, 73 percent of work e-mailers reported spending an hour or less per day on e-mail, which includes 23 percent who said they spend less than 15 minutes per day handling e-mail.

Forty six percent said their work e-mail volume had stayed the same during the preceding year, and 48 percent said it increased.

Not surprisingly, checking e-mail has become ingrained into Americans’ work habits, as 88 percent said they check their inboxes at least once per day. Of those, 70 percent said they check e-mail at least several times per day. Nearly a quarter said they “constantly” check their e-mail.

As for e-mail’s ability to drain productivity, 39 percent of work e-mailers said they have sent jokes or chain e-mails at some point, 26 percent said they have used e-mail to discuss their personal lives, and 15 percent admitted to using e-mail to gossip about work.

Also on the downside, 22 percent of work e-mailers said e-mail has caused misunderstandings, 28 percent find e-mail distracting at times, 23 percent said e-mail adds a new source of stress, and 16 percent said it encourages gossip.

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