Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid declutters her inbox


Who are these people who achieve ‘inbox zero’ with their email? I think it must be an urban myth put about by people who have personal assistants. Still, I always used to aim for a white space at the bottom of my inbox by the end of the day. How much less stressful that was. Everything would be filed neatly away in mail folders by project or topic.

Luckily, my filing system is pretty robust: if you file something under the topic you first think of, that is probably where you will first think to look for it again. If that fails, there is always an advanced search to catch a random filing mistake. The only emails left would be those needing a little time to reply.

Meaningless fluff

I’ve even set up a rule to file my sent items because IT decided that we only need to keep three months of sent mail. Well, the reality is the emails I send are far more useful than the ones I receive. Most of what everyone else sends is just meaningless fluff. If someone asks you to resend them something, it is easier to look for the last time you sent it than recreate it again. It is also good proof when some troublemaker from C-suite suggests that you didn’t send something when you know for a fact that you did.

Filing everything away so you can see the end of the list of emails in your inbox feels wonderful. It shows you are on top of things; there is light at the end of the dark tunnel of digital clutter. However, in recent months, I’ve had such a torrent of spam, I just can’t keep up.

I did move a lot of it by creating a rule to move all the drivel put out by the internal communications team. They organise daily posts from the CEO and other Higher Beings every time a new product is launched or if a new sales milestone is reached.

On the surface, these missives sound like good news, but there is always an encoded must-try-harder message, so we ‘keep up the good work’. Now, in an effort to improve my mental resilience, these emails slide automatically to my ‘senseless noise’ folder. I’d prefer to send them straight to trash, but you never know when some Higher Being might refer to something important, so I keep them just in case.

Smarmy consultants

Our suppliers are the next problem. If I had a pound for every pension newsletter from Smarmy Consulting, I could retire already. They send a special alert every time some minor rule changes. They add a bunch of these alerts together in summary to make a monthly newsletter, and quarterly they send an international report which contains no factual information whatsoever, just frightening headlines like ‘your pension scheme may be affected by this legislative change in Canada’. I get all this in triplicate because the same ‘news’ is being blasted out by Hugely Expensive Consulting, Mercenary Consultants, and many others.

I don’t know what to do with this surfeit of data. I don’t want to risk missing something important by filing it under ‘senseless noise’, but equally I don’t have time to wade through all this material just to know if I need to do anything. What I’d really like (consultants please take note) is a single digest monthly with a personalised commentary from our account manager pointing out what is relevant for our specific schemes and spelling out what action we might need to take. Then I’d know they had my back, even if, inevitably, there would be consulting fees involved to get anything done.

A large volume of digital clutter is emails from general HR bodies. Again, I don’t like to unsubscribe in case I miss something, but those guys are sending out far too much. I am bombarded by emails, articles, blogs, and whitepapers. They typically cover more about general employment than on benefits, but it is still useful stuff.

Radical detox

I am particularly interested in wellbeing and mental health, so these articles make for a better read, but I don’t have enough hours in the day. What makes it worse is a lot of the same articles get scattered around on social media so even an interesting new study or fact can keep popping up over and over until it starts affecting my mental health more than whatever the article was about in the first place. HR bodies take note: send me one well-written digest and I might actually read it. I get radical in my detox and unsubscribe from several groups. What do they do? They send me an email to acknowledge they’ve taken me off their mail list. Seriously.

My colleagues just add to the mess. Several people use email to chat instead of using messaging. And some will still ask for availability rather than check online calendars. Last week I had about 50 emails about just one meeting. I remember one of the guys in IT saying that email would be defunct in five years; well, it shows no sign of slowing down around here. Yes, we use internal messages as well, but I get no less email as a result; I just get spammed in duplicate.

Saving the planet

This week, I saw in the news that having a big inbox full of mail is actually impacting the environment; all that excess digital storage from millions of people requires untold servers to be powered across the world. I make a pact to be more brutal in deleting unnecessary email rather than filing it for posterity. Indeed, perhaps we should all send less email in a bid to be green. Maybe one day I will once again see white space at the bottom of my inbox. I feel better just thinking about it.

Next time… Candid looks at communications.