What are best practices for managing a large volume of email? I have a colleague who doesn't answer messages or makes problems when she does, so others at my employer have taken to writing to me instead of her. They are well intentioned: they want to get work done, but they put me in a difficult position. The person they don't want to write to is my boss, and I wind up getting so many messages and requests that I am completely overwhelmed and stressed.
Dear Slogging Through,
Ugh…emails…I, and everyone else in this digital world, feel you. And it’s not just the number of emails but the sense of urgency behind every email that makes it impossible to escape. Plus all the meetings on meetings that lead to more emails but less time to answer said emails…. Ok, I digress! Let’s get back to you!
While emails are a problem unto themselves, in this situation, I don’t think they are THE problem. The problem here appears to be your colleague not doing their job, your other colleagues assuming that you will, you in fact making that assumption true, and your supervisor being seemingly unaware that all of this is happening. So while I can give practical advice on supporting a massive inbox (such as setting aside set times on your calendar to devote to just email, finding ways to prioritize your daily tasks along with sifting through emails to know which ones need to be responded to first, etc.) let’s focus on what I believe are the actual issues.
First and foremost, if you have a colleague that isn’t doing their job and that is impacting you and your work, your supervisor needs to know. I know the idea of “ratting” out your colleagues doesn’t feel the best but this is clearly getting to a point that is unreasonable and action needs to be taken. Hopefully your supervisor will be able to support you by talking to this individual and re-shifting the work back to this individual.
Now, being the eldest sibling has also taught me that sometimes mom just tells you to do it because that’s the path of least resistance versus getting the younger siblings to do it and probably do it wrong. This is not acceptable with siblings or in the workplace. If that is the response you get from your supervisor then that is something you’ll need to work through. Maybe it is ok that you’re supporting all of these emails from your colleagues, but then it should also be ok that other responsibilities are shifted to someone else (i.e. the original offender). Or if you are expected to take on someone else’s job then you should be given a raise, a title change, etc. to compensate for the additional work that you are doing that is likely not in your job description. And, of course, in the worst case scenario there is always HR as a last resort.
Beyond telling your supervisor, and depending on how your supervisor responds, I would also tell your colleagues directly that this isn’t your role and that if they have concerns that the colleague in question isn’t able to support them with, they should go to that individual's supervisor directly. If they’re good colleagues, they’ll understand that you are establishing a healthy boundary and are trying to do what’s best for you as well as everyone else in the long run. Your burning out isn’t going to be beneficial to anyone. If this also doesn’t work, then, moving forward, as you get these emails, start to loop in the colleague in question and your supervisor and say something like, “Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fall in my wheelhouse but I’m sure X will be able to support as this is their expertise.” This will put the pressure back on your colleague and let your supervisor know as well. Keep doing this until something changes! I know you feel bad and want things to move forward but it can’t be at the expense of your well being.
SophiaP.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Feeling the Years? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.