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Why they are not replying to your emails? Scientists identified the main causes of email deferral

Posted April 15, 2019

You are trying to find a job, but always end up running into wall – they don‘t reply your emails. Scientists call this behaviour “email deferral” and it is even more annoying when you‘re already in the workplace. But why people don‘t just reply to emails? Scientists from the University of Waterloo conducted a first-of-a-kind study to find the most prevalent cause of email deferral.

Around 16 % of people sometimes refuse to reply to an email, although some of them return to it later. Image credit: JD Lasica via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

This study identified five main factors that make people decide whether replying to an email is worthwhile: time or effort involved in handling the email; identity of the sender; number of recipients on the thread; user’s workload and context; and the urgency of the email message. Naturally, people evaluate the importance of the sender. If it is someone who has some significance in their personal or professional lives, they are going to be replying right away. But time and effort are also important factors. For example, if there are attachments, a lot of text or links people are less likely to read and reply to an email.

People are less likely to reply to their peers, as funny as that is. Scientists believe it is so because we know people around us and we know what their answers would be in many cases. However, there is also another peculiar factor, which may determine if your email will get a reply. Bahareh Sarrafzadeh, co-author of the study, said: “One of the reasons we found for people deferring handling emails is that when there are multiple recipients the thinking might be that someone else will reply or it may not be clear at once who is required to respond.” Therefore, sending personalized emails may be more time consuming, but also more effective.

Scientists analysed emailing behaviour of 15 people and performed a large-scale log analysis, involving 40 thousand users. They found that email deferral is rather common – around 16 % of people defer at least one email per day. That’s tens of thousands of emails that are not getting replies. Of course, sometimes reply is not even expected. For example, rejected job applications do not always get a reply due to time constrains and the share volume of inquiries. However, these cases were not included in this data.

Now researchers say that they will analyse what makes people come back to previously deferred emails and deal with them. They say that this could help designing software to remind users about emails they need to return to. Hopefully this would improve email correspondence and make the entire process at least a little bit more efficient.


Source: University of Waterloo

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