The great email time-bomb

We're now so email-obsessed that anyone who fails to reply to us within half an hour isn't worth knowing...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

According to a new survey by Vodafone, one in seven UK companies will take their business elsewhere if a supplier doesn’t email them back within 30 minutes of a request being sent out. Yes, you read that right: almost 20% of businesses not only make spending decisions based entirely on how quickly people reply to their emails, but also think that half an hour is more than enough time for some kind of response (clearly someone who takes 45 minutes to hit ‘reply’ can’t be that keen).

For some reason, this email extremism was particularly prevalent in Birmingham, where one-fifth of all businesses demanded a 30-minute response time, closely followed by Manchester and Newcastle with 18%. Quite why these cities are more impatient than London – where 17% demanded such exacting standards – we’re not quite sure. Perhaps it’s something to do with the weather? But one thing’s for sure: since this proportion seems to be rising consistently, we’re clearly getting less tolerant with every passing year…

The mobile operator claims that it’s obvious why this is happening: apparently, the average cost to businesses of opportunities lost via slow email response has jumped to £18,840 per year (we’re a bit sceptical about this figure, on the grounds that it’s surely impossible to measure it with any degree of certainty – but this was supposedly the average reported by survey respondents).

Vodafone obviously has a vested interest here: it wants us to spend more money on its mobile email services. So it’ll have been delighted to discover that 36% of us (and 48% of London workers) believe that a lack of mobile email creates extra stress, while 58% thought all employees would need it before too long. It’s even got an endorsement from author Matt Beaumont, whose 2000 best-seller ‘e’ was composed entirely of emails. He told MT: ‘People treat email like a conversation; they write like they talk, and they expect an instant response’. Beaumont (who reckons he’d definitely hold it against someone if they didn’t reply when he knew they were around) agrees that mobile email is a good stress-buster. ‘People don’t like to feel disconnected, either in their work or social life. Mobile communications let you stay in touch all the time.’

However, we suspect that some of you may see these results differently. The only way to make sure that we reply to emails within half an hour is to have access to our work emails practically 24/7 – and that won’t do wonders for our work/ life balance, will it? In fact, if we’re getting increasingly obsessed with email, then perhaps we should be trying to restrict our access, not expand it...

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