Gradient Research: Ever wonder why you’re glued to your inbox?


by Stefan Musch

It’s 11PM. You left work five hours ago. You should be getting ready to go to sleep. But no, you’re checking email—because, in eight hours, when it’s time to start a new day, you’re going to have...even more messages to read, digest, and write.

Despite the uptick of platforms like Slack, Google Chat, and project management solutions (Asana, Jira, Trello, Wrike, Basecamp, etc.), Americans still rely on email as the primary mode of digital communication. According to research from Adobe, the number of hours spent checking personal email grew 17% from 2017 to 2018, to 2.5 hours a day. On top of this, Americans spend an average of 3.1 hours a day checking work email.

What is it about email that makes this mode of communication so timeless and all-encompassing? These questions are on the minds of every business and consumer.  As a geo-distributed team that quite literally lives in our email inbox, the Gradient team decided to explore this sociological question in-depth. We fielded a nationally representative survey to more than 700 Americans to see why we’re glued to our inboxes.


Here’s what we discovered:

  • Email triggers human stress responses. Email helps Americans maintain a sense of focus on what they need to do in their personal and professional lives. That said, email induces a sense of urgency to reply instantly (44% agree) and managing email communications triggers stress in 25% of Americans. Inboxes keep people productive but at what cost and what benefit?
  • Email keeps us honest, but at what cost? 50% of Americans that have a work email use it to avoid difficult in-person discussions on the workfloor. Depending on your frame of reference, that could either be a good or bad thing. Americans are either avoiding face-to-face conversations or using email to express themselves with brutal honesty—to open doors for more substantive conversations. Which is the case?
  • Email can stifle empathy. More than one-third of respondents (38%) rely on their personal email account to have important personal conversations even though it would be easier and more effective through a phone call or in-person discussion. Americans could be missing out on constructive, face-to-face dialogue by limiting their interactions to a screen.
  • Email might be making us unhealthy. During personal hours, over 70% have some type of notification on for their work email,  almost 40% check their work email during personal hours at least hourly and 18% constantly monitor their work inbox. This backs up the numerous research studies that prescribe a healthy work-life balance — to which our current email usage is clearly not contributing.
  • Email is foundational to the way we live and work—and that’s not going to change. In both personal and professional domains — email has only become more popular in the last 5 years. A mere 10% of Americans use email less frequently than before. To cement this reality, 50% of respondents are certain that email is not going anywhere in the next 5 years.
  • Email needs guardrails. There is a clear need for employers to establish expectations for email usage.  Only 56% of employers currently have them.

    Curious to learn how your own email campaigns are influencing your workforce, revenue outcomes, and customers? Don't hesitate to contact us at

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Stefan Musch

Written by Stefan Musch

Stefan holds a master’s degree in Marketing and Management from Tilburg University. After Tilburg, Stefan went into industry where he applied state-of-the-art marketing science methods to business challenges. Stefan partners with client teams to translate advanced analysis to easy-to-implement recommendations, guiding managers along the way.