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Unnecessary and badly written e-mails cost companies in the UK millions each year, according to the latest research by business-writing consultants Emphasis.

According to research from the company, employees in many British companies engage in time-wasting e-mail practices that cut into worker efficiency and drive down profitability. All of this comes as the volume of business mail rises steadily in the UK, forcing workers to cope with ever-increasing mountain of messages in their inboxes.

"Much of this e-mail traffic is unnecessary. Often messages are copied to colleagues unnecessarily, or many people e-mail their colleagues when it would have been easier to pick up the phone – or even to walk to their desk and talk to them," said Robert Aston senior analyst at Emphasis. He also included the sending of e-mails that are not essential to the employees work as an element of the overuse of e-mail.

This overuse, along with poorly written mails, can cost some companies up to £10,000 per person, per annum, senior staff at some of Britain's biggest firms told Emphasis. One FTSE 100 firm reported annual e-mail costs of £39 million.

Despite these sizeable and unnecessary losses, few companies interviewed are doing anything to stop the cash drain, Emphasis said.

Emphasis said people are more comfortable e-mailing than they are speaking, and pointed to the introduction of "no e-mail Fridays" by lottery company Camelot. Another company, if unrealistically, ordered its employees to wear red baseball caps every time they opened Outlook Express.

According to a separate Emphasis survey of 200 companies in 2001, most managers said that one in five of their e-mails were badly written or difficult to read. Almost 40 percent found the quality of communication within their own department to be below par, and e-mail caused the greatest concern.

Other problem areas thrown up in this recent study were overuse of the CC function.

"Often people cc messages as a security blanket," Ashton explains. "Their philosophy is that they cover their backs as long as they've copied in everyone. YetÂ…it draws people into every task. It's incredibly inefficient."

Ashton also highlighted the aggressive use of e-mail, for instance bcc (blind carbon copy), whereby employees try to knock fellow staff of the ladder by copying seniors into messages without their knowledge.

Longwinded messages, saying in five paragraphs what could be said in five words, was also included as part of the whole e-mail inefficiency issue.

© ENN

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