The Shocking Cost of Internal Email Spam

We’re all familiar with email spam — those unwanted email messages that fill our inboxes and waste our precious time.

But did you know a significant chunk of that email spam is coming from inside our company, from our co-workers and even our bosses?

In fact, internal spam can be even more insidious than external spam. For one thing, anti-spam software can’t detect them, because they come from official email addresses. And we’re more likely to waste time opening and reading them, because, after all, our colleagues sent them.

What Is Internal Spam?

Some internal emails are obviously spam: chain letters, jokes, even links to the latest viral YouTube video.

However, some emails that are work-related end up being spam as well. Think of all the “official” emails you were copied, but turned out to be useless to you. Or how about when one employee chooses to “reply to all,” when the response is only relevant to the sender?

These emails, even when they’re on work-related topics, turn out to be unwanted, irrelevant, and bothersome — in other words, spam.

How Much Internal Spam Costs

Internal spam, just like spam from external sources, costs your company thousands of dollars a year in lost productivity. Unfortunately we haven’t found any surveys covering internal spam, but the cost of ALL types of spam is staggering.

According to the 2004 National Technology Readiness Survey, the cost of spam in terms of productivity loss is $21.6 billion every year in the US alone. This was based on the finding that the average Internet user spends 3 minutes deleting spam every day.

However, according to Boomerang for Gmail, this duration is closer to 5 minutes a day. You can also use this online calculator to estimate how much your company is losing to spam every day.

Aside from productivity loss, email spam costs your company money in terms of additional burden on your computer systems. Email spam takes up a lot of memory space. Your IT is continually having to buy additional space for your servers, to house data that’s ultimately useless.

But there’s more. ICF International, in a study sponsored by McAfee, says that spam email has a global environmental impact. You read that right. Dealing with spam increases our energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. ICF estimates that the spam-related emissions for all email users is 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — about the same amount of emissions generated by 1.5 million homes in the United States.

From the personal level, to the enterprise and the global levels, the costs of email spam is significant and warrants our attention.

How to Reduce Internal Spam

Unfortunately, no spam software can automatically detect internal spam. Solving the problem of internal email spam requires a change in company culture and employee behaviour. Below are some examples:

  • Cultivate internal emailĀ etiquette

Discourage employees from using email for non-work-related messages, such as chain mail and jokes. Also discourage the practice of broadcasting emails by sending to groups of addressees.

Tell employees to think twice, three times, before copying emails to anyone, only doing so when the email is truly relevant to the person.

  • Use social intranet tools

Social intranet tools reduce the need to use email to communicate internally. For example, through the instant messenger application, two people can send quick messages back and forth between them.

Documents can be made accessible to a number of employees through shared file folders, instead of attaching the file and emailing it to everyone.

Social intranets can also be used for announcements and internal blogs, collaboration through wiki, group chats, and discussion forum. All of these functionalities can replace email and do an even better job of fostering collaboration and enabling faster communication.

  • Ban internal email

The most extreme (thing) you can do is to ban internal email altogether. A French company, Atos, has stopped using email to communicate internally. This was after they found that the average employee received 200 emails a day, of which only 10% were useful. The company replaced email with social intranet tools, using email only to communicate with external stakeholders.

Internal Spam and You

How does internal spam affect you? What steps will you take to reduce the amount of internal spam in your company every day?

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