Spam doesn't kill appetite for e-mail

Spam isn't destroying enthusiasm for e-mail among U.S. workers, according to a new study on e-mail use in the workplace.

2 min read
Spam hasn't killed enthusiasm for e-mail among U.S. workers, according to a new study on e-mail use in the workplace.

A full 52 percent of respondents surveyed in a Pew Internet & American Life Project study reported receiving no spam in their work in-boxes. Another 19 percent said spam accounted for less than 10 percent of the mail they received. The "Email at Work" survey, scheduled for release Monday, polled 1,003 Americans who use e-mail at work.

The study found, among other things, that the average worker spends about a half hour each day handling e-mail and sends or receives a total of about 15 e-mails.

The results surprised even the researchers, who said they expected to find evidence of a growing backlash against e-mail, as many people and businesses are increasingly overwhelmed by unsolicited messages.

Instead, researchers said spam hasn't hit most workplace in-boxes with the same vigor as that of personal e-mail accounts that explode with unwanted messages.

"There is a huge distinction between spam in personal e-mail accounts and spam in the workplace," said Deb Fallows, the study's author.

Fallows said mining corporate e-mail systems for addresses isn't as easy and cost-effective for spammers as processing searches on public accounts such as Yahoo, America Online and Hotmail.

She also said people aren't as likely to make their work e-mail addresses public. Instead, people tend to use personal addresses when posting to newsgroups or other places where spammers often mine for targets.

What's more, the study found that those who are overwhelmed by spam at work constitute a small but growing group of "power e-mailers."

"This group matches the profile of the work e-mailer we read and hear most about in the press reports and in Internet lore--the worker who is inundated by e-mail and who spends long hours dealing with it," the report said.

About 11 percent of the power e-mailers said they were overwhelmed with handling e-mail, compared with just 2 percent of nonpower e-mailers.

The power e-mailers, who made up 20 percent of those surveyed, received about 50 messages each day and sent more than 20. Those people were also the most likely to check their in-box several times an hour, and many said they spend two hours a day dealing with e-mail. Fallows said the power e-mailers tend to have jobs related to technology or the Internet.

U.S. workers overall gave e-mail high marks, with nearly three-quarters saying that it helps them communicate with more people and saves time. About 59 percent said e-mail has improved teamwork. However, about a quarter of e-mailers said the messages distracted them, and one-fifth said e-mail adds stress to their job.

Respondents also said e-mail was not the best medium for heart-to-heart conversations. About 85 percent of those who e-mail at work said they preferred face-to-face contact when talking to someone about workplace problems and sensitive issues.