Email abuse in the workplace

Updated April 17, 2017

E-mail is a crucial business tool, allowing almost instantaneous communication between colleagues and clients. It can relay important information, close deals or widen the potential client base of a company.

There are cases, however, in which e-mail in the workplace is abused, causing loss of productivity. There are reasons why this happens, with the most common being worker frustration and boredom.


Ferris Research carried out a survey in 2007 that highlighted the use of e-mail in business. The company estimated that 25 billion e-mails were sent each day in the previous year; 6 trillion business-related e-mails were sent that year.

When used correctly, e-mail is an important tool in improving the reputation and profitability of the company, as well as improving colleague and client relations.


The primary attraction of e-mail is that it is instantaneous. That, coupled with the fact that it is free, makes it a vitally important tool in the world of business and commerce. It allows fast and effective dialogue between colleagues and clients. For many businesses, the advent of e-mail has allowed them to gain access to far more potential clients.

E-mails are also stored electronically and--in most cases--backed up on a frequent basis. Whereas paper copies of important documents can be lost, there is always evidence of dialogue and correspondence when using e-mail, which is available for retrieval at a later date.

Forms of Email Abuse

E-mail in the workplace may occasionally not contain information relating to the company or company business, but can still be harmless and--in some cases--increase morale in the office. However, if many e-mails like this are sent, valuable time that would otherwise be spent in productive work will be wasted.

Managers should be cautious about sending personal e-mails to their team, to avoid sending the wrong message.

If the content of e-mail is racist or of a sexual nature, it may cause offence to the recipients. In such cases, management should be informed immediately so preventive measures can be taken.

Source of Email Abuse

"Harmless" e-mails, such as those that contain jokes, funny pictures or whimsical stories, often arise from worker boredom or frustration. If he sending of pointless e-mails becomes excessive, it wastes everyone's time and hurts productivity.

Offensive e-mails are possibly targeted at one person or a group of people who have something in common, for example the same race or sex. Motivations can include jealousy or malice.

How To Avoid Email Abuse

Managers can spend a lot of money in purchasing software than restricts the use of e-mail. Many e-mail filters will scan each message sent for inappropriate content or attachments, and "quarantine" these, meaning the intended recipient does not get the email in question. However, these filters run the risk of quarantining legitimate e-mail.

The most effective way to avoid e-mail misuse is to introduce a policy concerning e-mail to the business, and educate the employees on the benefits of e-mail and how misuse will not be tolerated.

If correct e-mail usage is instilled into the culture of the workplace, potential problems can be quickly avoided. If a manager is informed of somebody's sending abusive e-mails, he must first attempt to identify the reasons for the abuse, and then proceed to take whatever action is necessary.

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About the Author

Ben Wakeling graduated from Coventry University in 2009 with an upper second class honours B.Sc. degree in construction management. Wakeling is also a freelance writer, and works for a number of businesses, such as Demand Studios, Suite 101 and Academic Knowledge.