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Common format of Email. Every provider's format differs slightly. Pictured here: Google's Gmail.

Email (electronic mail, e-mail) is a medium of electronic communication, used to send and receive messages.[1] Modern emails are standardized messages that are sent across networks with the assistance of the Internet. The email draws inspiration from standard mail. The email header is similar to the envelope of a standard letter, featuring the “To:” text box where the user types the recipient's email address. The message box, where users type their message to the recipient, is similar to a traditionally-written letter. Instead of dropping a letter in the mailbox, email users press “Send” and their message is off to the recipient.

Emailing is widely regarded as a popular means of communication, with users partaking in emailing across the world. Email is commonly regarded as the communication tool of choice by academics and professionals, making the service very common in the workplace. Popular international email providers include Google’s Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Microsoft’s Outlook.

Many employees use email for its efficiency and accessibility. However, there are some drawbacks to using email as a tool of communication in the workplace. Employees often face email overload, a state deriving from information overload, which can be diminished through a variety of techniques. With the rise of email in the workplace also comes the increased risk of email misuse. Employees may misuse email technology by gossiping, inappropriately communicating with coworkers, and using personal emails to communicate corporate information.

Technical Development Origins

The origins of electronic mail existed before networks. In the 1960s, email was first developed on a single system.[2] Time-shared operating systems created local email systems, sending mail between users on one system using local infrastructure. Single system email gained popularity and was common among operating systems by the early 1970s.

In July of 1971, Dick Watson of SRI International released “an Internet Request for Comments” (RFC-196) memo, creating “A Mail Box Protocol.”[2] The protocol detailed the steps in which the Network Information Center (NIC) could electronically distribute documents on the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) for printing.

After reading the memo, Ray Tomilson of Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) modified Watson’s approach, suggesting that it was most efficient to share documents to a user’s mailbox and then allow the user to decipher what should be printed.[2] To test his theory, Tomilson used two TENEX machines with single system email programs (SNDMSG), where he successfully sent messages between two different machines. Tomilson made two major contributions to the future of email. First, Tomilson created the modern email address. Tomilson revolutionarily added the “@” symbol to separate the username and the name of the host. Second, by sending the message to a remote user’s mailbox, Tomilson created the first MTA. The email was commonly used on the Arpanet by the end of 1973.[2]

In early 1974, John Vittal of BBN created MSG, a new, stand-alone program that simply sent mail.[2] The simple program only used 30 commands, including multiple commands that are commonly used today. Specifically, Vittal created the move, answer (resembling the modern “reply”), and forward commands. MSG revolutionized email and became Arpanet’s most used software for years.

The email system can be compartmentalized into two subsystems: message handling system (MHS) and user agent (UA).[2] The MHS is responsible for sending the message while the UA collaborates with the user to create, receive, and manage messages.

Popular Providers

Email addresses can be hosted by email providers, companies, schools, or organizations. The host information comes after the “@” sign in the email address.

Yahoo! Mail

Yahoo launched Yahoo! Mail in October of 1997 as a free email service.[3] Yahoo Mail was accessible from any computer with an Internet connection. Yahoo released the service advertising that users can use the same email address forever, eliminating any concerns of the impermanence of emailing. With the launch of Yahoo Mail came the launch of many new email amenities. First, Yahoo-registered users can use their Yahoo account on all personalized services. Yahoo Mail users were able to access their accounts on any computer with the Internet. Yahoo also prioritized password protection and management. Recognizing the prevalence of multimedia, Yahoo’s Mail also supported many types of multimedia, including HTML files, text, audio, and video. Yahoo released multiple contact features, granting users access to Four11’s directory of over 100 million email addresses and creating the address book feature, allowing users to create address books to their most-used names, addresses, and phone numbers. [3] Originally, Yahoo gave users a free 3MB of storage space. Yahoo continued to upgrade storage to 100MB (2004), 1GB (2005), and finally unlimited email storage (2007). [4]


Google’s Gmail was created by Paul Huchheit, who began working on the software in August 2001.[5] Almost three years later, Gmail was launched to the public on April 1, 2003. Gmail was developed with several unique features. First, Gmail included a search feature, allowing users to search for messages using any keyword. Unlike other providers at the time, Gmail launched with a starting storage capacity of 1 GB. Due to the high storage capacity, users were able to keep emails for a long period instead of deleting them to stay under the storage limit. Google’s Gmail also featured an inbox with messages that were not strictly sequential, with priority going to important messages. Messages that were sent in a back-and-forth pattern were characterized into a cluster called conversations. With conversations, users could figuratively say “goodbye” to duplicate text. To keep Gmail free, Google instituted small text ads within the platform.

Microsoft soft-launched in the summer of 2012, with the official launch of the network occurring in February 2013. [6] replaced Hotmail, the network Microsoft acquired in 1997. However, Hotmail users were able to seamlessly transition from Hotmail to Outlook, while still receiving all benefits of Outlook. Outlook was marketed to remove all email barriers, allowing users to have a more modernized experience. Microsoft advertised Outlook’s “powerful” inbox with the ability to handle the mass influx of emails. Outlook also allows users to send hundreds of multimedia attachments within one message. An additional multimedia feature lets users connect to popular social media outlets from Outlook as well.


At its creation, email had many unique benefits compared to other modes of communication.[7] First, email was quite fast, allowing users to communicate significantly faster than traditional mail. Email is also not impacted by geographical distance; users can communicate across continents without additional delay. Unlike previous communication systems, with email, the sender and receiver are independent of each other. Both parties do not need to be online to create a successful email transaction. Email also supports a double-blind process, meaning that the sender does not know how the message is delivered and the receiver does not know the circumstances in which the email was sent. In the age of the Internet, email enables users to access a range of computer-based tools, allowing users to supplement their communicative experience. Therefore, the privacy of both the sender and recipient is protected. Email is also free, or available at a freemium, allowing any user with Internet access, regardless of socioeconomic status, to use the services.


Email Overload

Email users often face email overload. The term, coined by Steve Whittaker and Candance Sidner in 1996, describes the status of being overwhelmed by both the volume and the different types of email. [8] Moreover, employees may feel email overload when they receive large amounts of emails with the emails requiring different actions (e.g. to do, to read, to reply, etc).



Email has become present in all aspects of life, including both professional and personal, making email a habitat for human communication.[8] Due to the popularity of email, many users receive an influx of emails every day. It is predicted that the average email user has 3,003 emails in their work inbox with an additional 15,030 emails in their personal inbox.[8]


Email type can also catalyze email overload. Employees may accumulate stress as different emails require different actions. Work inboxes tend to include more reading material and emails requiring a direct response. On the other hand, personal inboxes may include bill payments, personal mail, and promotional material. Spam messages, including advertisements, are more likely to accumulate in the personal inbox compared to the work inbox.[8] With every email requiring a different action, users may face stress.

The sheer volume and type of email do not guarantee email overload.[8] Email overload is only a problem if the user feels negative emotions towards the state of their inbox. It is predicted that the number of unread emails may better correlate to email overload, with higher amounts of unread emails predicting an overwhelmed sentiment.[8]


Email overload may hinder productivity in the workplace. It is predicted that the average professional spends 28% of their workday reading and answering emails, equating to 2.6 hours of receiving approximately 120 emails a day.[9] Professionals are predicted to check their email 15 times per workday (equivalent to every 37 minutes).[10] Employees may check their emails with a high frequency due to the overwhelming nature of the inbox. However, over-checking emails may waste up to 21 minutes per day.[10] Likewise, those without organizational systems may waste an additional 27 minutes per day.[10] Additionally, email overload can decrease job satisfaction due to the mental effects of information overload. Email overload can motivate employees to quit their jobs.[9]

Potential Solutions

Individual Action

Employees can decrease their likelihood of developing email overload by taking control of their inboxes. To control the flow of emails, experts recommend limiting the number of incoming emails by unsubscribing to e-newsletters, turning off social media notifications (e.g. Facebook), and resisting the temptation to send quick, unnecessary messages (e.g. “Thanks”).

Next, experts recommend cleaning out the inbox through adhering to the following guidelines: delete, respond, file.[11] Often, users can delete an email based on the title of the message. Email users can respond to quick emails next. Finally, employees could file their emails into flags or labels. Users who frequently file emails can be categorized as “frequent filers,” with infrequent filers categorized as “spring cleaners,” and then those who do not partake in the filing as “no filers.” Filing emails is up to the user's discretion as efficiency depends on the situation. Many email providers offer folders, nested folders, filters, labels, important markers, and more within their amenities.


Companies have made efforts to reduce email overload among their employees. In 2012, Volkswagen decided to stop its Blackberry servers from sending email messages to some employees after their shift.[12] Under the agreement, Volkswagen’s servers stopped sending emails 30 minutes after the end of the employees' shift until 30 minutes before their next workday began.


Email providers can take additional routes email providers can take to limit email overload within their software.[10] These suggestions include providing users with unique email addresses that they can send/forward emails to convert into tasks or creating a program allowing users to add emails to a simple to-do list within the platform, among others.

Email Misuse

Employees may use email for inappropriate uses, including gossip, improper email domains, and sexual harassment. Due to the nature of email, employees may feel free to express themselves without facing consequences. [13] Because email users are physically removed from the other parties, users inappropriately correspond with other individuals as there are no social cues. Likewise, email users may envision email as an ephemeral mode of communication. While an email may be deleted or moved out of an inbox, the email message is not truly deleted.[13]


Employees may use their email as a tool of gossip. Gossip is defined as the “absence of a third party from the conversation.” [14] Due to the definition of the term, gossip can be used in a positive or negative light. Gossip emails can exist at all levels of the corporate hierarchy. However, employees are more likely to write gossip emails to smaller audiences. Gossip sources designate the major contributors to creating the gossip while gossip sinks are those who receive the most gossip.

Jon Gruden NFL Emails

In 2021, Jon Gruden, head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders and former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was fired from his coaching position for sending racist email messages. The email was acquired in an NFL investigation into workplace misconduct at the Washington Football team. Senior NFL executives reviewed over 650,000 emails under the direction of commissioner Roger Goodell. [15] Later in the investigation, the NFL was informed of the existence of Gruden’s emails, leading the team to review emails from Gruden and the Raiders. In a 2011 email, Gruden used a racist stereotype rooted in anti-Black imagery to refer to DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, as “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin tires.” [15] After public outcry, the offensive email led to Gruden’s termination as the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.

Inappropriate Relations

Employees may use company email domains to inappropriately communicate with other employees. E-harassment, the term representing digital harassment, has become one of the most prominent types of harassment in the workplace. Employees may promote a contentious work environment when they send sexually-oriented content from the Internet over email.[16] There have been many court cases regarding E-harassment. For example, in the 1995 Barber v Calsonic International case, a female employee filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against the company alleging that a male supervisor made frequent inappropriate comments via the company email.[16] Due to the detachment from reality when using email, employees may communicate messages that would not otherwise be said in traditional forms of communication.

In an extreme setting, email correspondences can include comments, requests, or demands that would constitute quid pro quo claims. A quid pro quo behavior may be performed when a superior employee expresses or implies demands for favors in return for a benefit (e.g. raise, promotion, recommendation, etc.) or to avoid a punishment (e.g. demotion, denial, termination, etc.).[16]

Dr. Mark Schlissel Emails

On January 15, 2022, the University of Michigan’s president Dr. Mark Schlissel was fired after inappropriate emails surfaced.[17] The University’s Board of Regents investigated Schlissel’s university email after the Regents received an anonymous complaint in December 2021, accusing Schlissel of being “ involved in an inappropriate relationship with a University employee.”[17] After the investigation, the Board of Regents determined that Schlissel had been having a multi-year affair with a sub coordinate, sending inappropriate messages with sexual undertones sporadically for years.

Once Schlissel was fired, the University released a 118-page document of the email communications between Schlissel and the subordinate employee. The emails ranged from September 2019 to December 2021.[17] Schlissel messaged “Love it when you say that, ” and “You can give me a private briefing,” among other emails to the subordinate under the university email domain.[17] Schlissel was immediately terminated after the investigation.

Personal Emails

Employees are generally expected to use their work email for all work-related correspondences. However, employees may use their personal email instead of their work email during the workday. By using a personal email instead of the preferred work email, an “accountability gap” may be created between the employee and the place or work.[18] There are both corporate and personal risks with using a personal email to conduct business.

First, the business loses audit trails when communications are conducted off of a company email domain. If an email correspondence needs to be brought up for litigation, the information on personal emails will be more difficult to retrieve.[18] Second, the business may lose control of data since the information is no longer in their hands. Employers often have security safeguards in place to protect important information. Employees are generally very unlikely to put any safeguards on personal emails.[18] By communicating via personal email, there is an increased risk for hacking and security breaches, potentially exposing private information.

Hillary Clinton Emails

In 2009, incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set up an email server at her home in New York. Clinton created the personal email “” for all of her communications, both work-related and personal.[19] Clinton also created email addresses for Huma Abedin, her aide, and Cheryl Mills, the State Department Chief of Staff. Instead of activating a email account, which is owned and managed by the U.S. government, Clinton chose to create a personal email for convenience as a government-sponsored BlackBerry could not support multiple email addresses.[19]

Clinton used this personal email for her four years as the Secretary of State office, accumulating over 62,320 emails during her term.[19] Out of all these emails, around half (30,490 emails) were official and should have been turned over to the state under government email protocol.[19] According to the 1950 Federal Records Act, all official correspondence created on personal accounts should be turned over to the government.[19] However, 10 months into Clinton’s term as Secretary of State, a new regulation permitted private email use if federal records were “preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.”[19]

In August 2015, Clinton turned over her private server to the FBI, allowing the FBI to investigate the security of classified information within her emails. Clinton is not the only government official to use a personal email. Notably, Colin Powell, the Secretary of State under George W. Bush) also used a personal email in the office while corresponding with international politicians.[19]


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