Blacklists, IP blockers, and mail filters are some of the methods companies use to curb the flow of spam E-mail messages.

Helen D'Antoni, Contributor

March 5, 2003

4 Min Read

Blacklists, IP blockers, and mail filters are some of the methods companies use to curb the flow of spam E-mail messages. Yet even with these filtering tools in place, electronic junk mail continues to evade spam-blocking techniques, hampering business operations by taxing network bandwidth, cutting worker productivity, and triggering employee frustration.

A recent study conducted by Osterman Research shows how pervasive spam has become and the effect it's having on employees. Of the study's 196 participants, a typical E-mail user receives 59 business-related messages a day and sends out 27. However, on average, 28% of incoming messages are considered to be spam, and the average E-mail user spends 37 minutes during a typical workweek dealing with electronic junk mail.

CHART 1That might not sound like much, but from a monthly perspective, the minutes quickly add up. E-mail users working without any kind of spam-blocking technology spend an average of 200 minutes dealing with unsolicited junk messages for every 1,000 E-mail messages received. That's approximately 3-1/2 hours of lost productivity a month. Output losses aren't as dramatic for protected employees; a total of 1-1/2 hours of lost productivity a month was reported, based on an average of 80 minutes spent dealing with spam for every 1,000 E-mail messages delivered.

The barrage of inappropriate and unsolicited messaging is affecting more than productivity, though, as the flood of E-mails tests workers' patience. More than half of survey participants consider spam to be extremely annoying. Two-thirds of respondents say they are offended when the messages are sexual in nature.

There are times when spam proves too alluring to resist. In the past month, survey respondents read an average of two spam messages because the subject line was too interesting to ignore.

Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, expects the anticipated growth of spam will have little impact on business E-mail users, who will be increasingly insulated due to investments in blocking technology.

What do you think needs to be done to stem the volume of workplace spam? Let us know at the address below.

Helen D'Antoni
Senior Editor, Research
[email protected]

During a typical week, how many minutes do you spend dealing with E-mail spam?

Spam will cost U.S. companies more than $10 billion this year, according to Ferris Research. There's no guarantee that investment in blocking techniques will end workplace spam, but preventive measures are putting a dent in the time it takes employees to manage spam. E-mail users protected by filtering report spending, on average, 33 minutes dealing with junk E-mails during a workweek. The amount of time jumps to 45 minutes when no protection is in place.

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Has spam ever caused you to overlook or miss a legitimate E-mail message?

The slash-and-burn approach to deleting spam favored by some employees puts more at risk than junk-mail messages. Legitimate business correspondence is also falling victim in the push to rid in-boxes of electronic junk mail. Spam, in some instances, is being blamed for why some messages are going unread. In fact, nearly half of the 196 E-mail users surveyed by Osterman Research report that spam has caused legitimate E-mail messages to be overlooked.

How effective do you think technology-oriented solutions, such as spam filters and services, will be in significantly reducing spam?

Technology-oriented products and services might be considered a viable way of controlling the types of E-mail messages reaching employees, but employees generally don't believe technology is very effective in reducing the amount of spam. Few E-mail users consider spam filters or services as extremely effective. Instead, the majority of survey participants rate their use as fairly or somewhat successful.

How effective will legislation be in significantly reducing spam?

Just as government agencies are trying to mandate for some industries the types of E-mail correspondence that must be archived and for how long, legislation is also afoot to create guidelines to control the use of spam. Yet few E-mail users believe these regulations will have a significant impact on spamming. Only 12% of survey participants report government intervention will be extremely or fairly effective in reducing the amount of spam in circula- tion. Most believe the impact will be minimal.

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