Executives Increasingly Turn to E-Mail

A new study suggests that executives who used to telephone or hold face-to-face meetings have increasingly turned to e-mail over the last five years.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Our business news begins with more executives using e-mail.

(Soundbite of music)

There's been a dramatic shift in how people communicate just over the last five years, especially in corporate America. A new study suggests that executives who used to telephone, or hold face-to-face meetings, are now using e-mails to an extraordinary degree.

NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.

WENDY KAUFMAN reporting:

More than 70 percent of the executives interviewed said that e-mail was their number one choice for communicating at work. In contrast, just 27 percent of the executives said e-mail was their top choice five years ago. The survey of 150 executives from major companies was conducted for Office Team, a worldwide staffing agency.

Diane Domeyer is Office Team's Executive Director.

Ms. DIANE DOMEYER (Executive Director, Office Team): Although our survey shows that e-mail communication is much more prevalent, it's not always appropriate in every situation, and thus, there's a lot of discussion in the workplace about e-mail etiquette and what types of situations to use e-mail for, and which not to.

KAUFMAN: Workplace experts suggest that because e-mail grew up so quickly, conventions and rules for how and when to use it haven't caught up.

With e-mail, you can't see other people's faces, or hear them speak. The body language and subtle voice cues are lost. So is nuance, and sometimes, the message itself. Domeyer says all too often managers use it when they shouldn't.

Ms. DOMEYER: And, they find themselves needing to either cushion their language or use emoticons, smiley faces, all capital letters, to express, you know, extreme emotion, and our guidance would be, you know, in those situations, it's probably best to either pick up the phone and talk to someone, or reach out to them in person.

KAUFMAN: But even when e-mail is used appropriately, there are costs, as well as benefits to doing so, suggests Peter Cappelli, Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

He says, while e-mail allows you to work away from the office more easily, you have to stay connected to your machine. And, says Cappelli, some of the more creative aspects of a give-and-take conversation don't take place when interactions are reduced to text on a screen.

Professor PETER CAPPELLI (Management, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School): The information conveyed becomes much more formal. You're much more careful about what you say; you're much more circumspect about it. You're much less likely to have, kind of, informal conversations that might lead in some unusual way. It's probably harder to develop friendships and social relationships if you're dealing with people just on e-mail.

KAUFMAN: On the other hand, e-mail communications are fast, often efficient, can eliminate ambiguity, and provide for a full record of decision making.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

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