By: A.J. O’Connell

Your employees are not reading your emails. How can you engage them? Fortunately, there are some things you can do to get your messages through.

Let’s say you’re the manager of a department, and there’s been an important change in company policy

It’s vital that all your employees know about this change because it will affect the way they do their jobs, so you do what any conscientious boss would do: you stay at work late one evening, write a long email detailing the policy change, and send it to the whole team. Then you go home, satisfied that everyone’s been updated.

But are they? By the next day, you’ve only gotten a few “okay” or “got it!” responses from your team and some of your employees are clearly still doing their jobs the old way, without taking the policy change into account.

You understand that it takes a while to change habits, but you suspect some staffers haven’t read your message at all, and the truth is: at least a third of those employees probably didn’t.

Workers are buried under an avalanche of email

According to a survey conducted by APPrise, 30 percent of employees admit they don’t read email from their employers. And a survey by PoliteMail of 56 million internal email messages found that although 77 percent of employees opened internal emails, 37 percent of recipients read those messages and just 24 percent clicked through to see links or images. So no, you’re not imagining it. Employees really aren’t opening your email.

To be fair to your team, there are a lot of reasons they’re not engaging with internal communications.

Your employees are not reading your emails

Today’s employees are overwhelmed by their email. In 2017, business users are sending and receiving about 120 emails every day, according to a report by the Radicati Group. That’s a lot of emails, and employees do spend a significant amount of time going through it: The McKinsey Global Institute found that the average worker spends 13 hours — an estimated 28 percent of their workweek  — managing their e-mail. The interruptions generated by those emails can be frustrating, according to the Information Overload Research Group (IORG): if a knowledge worker is interrupted at work, it takes 10 to 20 times the duration of the interruption to recover and get back to their previous task. Twenty-eight percent of the workday, says IORG, is eaten up by information overload.

In the face of all that email, workers facing project deadlines, sales inquiries, unhappy customers, or other urgent work emails may not prioritize company announcements.

When they get a message from the company — possibly a long block of text that’s hard to scan, or one with an uninformative subject line, or a dry email about something like compliance training — a busy worker may simply pass over that email in favor of email that needs to be attended to right now.

“I’ll read it later,” they may think. Or they might just decide to ignore the message completely, assuming that a manager will be following up with them on it in person or in another email.

Unopened emails are bad for business

While it may be understandable that employees aren’t spending time on your emails, it’s still bad news for your company. Your employees cannot do their jobs well if they aren’t aware of an updated policy or regulation. This problem is bad enough in traditional brick and mortar offices, where managers can walk up to a desk and ask a staffer if they’ve read an email, but it’s worse for companies with remote workforces. Communication is the lifeblood of remote teams and if some of those communications aren’t being read, the whole team suffers.

Your employees are not reading your emails

Unread and ignored communications are a symptom of disengagement in the workforce. Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report shows that only 33 percent of employees are engaged at work. That is an upsetting number, but even worse, only 6 of 10 employees know what their managers expect of them. That’s proof of a communication breakdown at work.

Engaged employees are happy employees, and the happier they are, the more productive they become: they show up for work more often, have fewer safety incidents, are better at helping customers, and the company’s bottom line ticks upward. It’s important to note that engagement is not just about happiness. It’s also about meeting those employees’ needs at work: making sure they know what the company expects them to do, and having the tools to do it.

Here’s the rub: you might be providing that information already. You might be emailing them constantly. How can you engage your employees if they’re simply not opening your email?

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to get your messages through to the whole team.

Your employees are not reading your emails


  • 1. Find out for sure who is reading your messages.

Your company almost certainly measures read rates on external marketing emails to potential customers but are you measuring your corporate communications? Probably not; very few companies check read rates for internal email. Using a tool that allows you to measure open rates for your email is a good start. As management expert Peter Drucker has been credited with saying, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

  • 2. Touch base with your team often.

If you’re like most managers, you’re following up with your team already, sending increasingly irritating messages to get your employees to read your original email. That’s probably not the kind of boss you want to be, and you’re likely not getting the results you want. Gallup suggests a different approach. According to the State of the Workplace report, workers respond well when their manager acts as a coach. Gallup suggests managers check in often with team members, having quick personal conversations to get them up to speed, make sure they have everything they need, and to check in on their progress with work. This approach may represent a significant change in your management style, but it’s worth doing. Employees, no matter how disengaged they may seem, are hungry for these types of conversations: Gallup found that most employees want their bosses to talk to them more.

  • 3. Cut down on email.

If your employees aren’t reading your email, maybe it’s time to reduce the email they’re getting, at least from you. No matter how good of a manager you are, the culture surrounding work email is going to be hard to change. Your team is busy, and they’re already buried under a lot of emails. Rather than stressing your employees out with more email than they can read, why not deliver your information in another way? If you’re taking a coaching approach, you can deliver information face-to-face, but if that isn’t feasible for you, there are plenty of business communication tools that aren’t email:  Slack, Workplace by Facebook, Sharepoint, or your company’s intranet.

Getting your message through …to everyone.

If you’re in charge of company communications, your work isn’t finished after you write an email and press send.

A manager’s job isn’t just to send information to a team; it’s to make sure they read, understand and learn that information so that they can apply it to their own work. And the fact of the matter is that your email, no matter how well-written it is, may get ignored by up to half of your team. Long, dull emails won’t get read. Messages sent when staffers are in the teeth of a stressful project are likely to be ignored. The information in an email without pictures or videos may be skimmed rather than absorbed.

No, your employees aren’t reading your email, but let’s be honest: the traditional work email isn’t good enough anymore. Companies that want a well-informed, engaged, productive workforce will have to improve their communication game before they see read rates rise.