The Forward Email Culture: Navigating Communication in the Workplace

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Opened my email this morning I find I have some new, unplanned ‘urgent’ tasks. Those new tasks have become more interesting because the email (forwarded) has provided no context and no summary of what’s required. Just as in the past, this forwarded email is blank…not even including a ‘Can you look at this?’ The email is also tagged with ‘This message was sent with High importance,” sending it to the top of my list for the day.

Email, for many companies, is still the backbone of communication. It’s a tool that keeps teams connected, informed, and productive. However, there’s a trend that’s emerged, often referred to as the “Forward Email Culture”. This is when individuals forward emails to others without providing context, leaving recipients puzzled about the purpose or urgency. In this article, we’ll delve into the impact of this practice and explore strategies for more effective communication in the workplace.


The Pitfalls of Context-Less Forwarding:

  1. Lost in Translation: Research conducted by McKinsey & Company underscores that ambiguous communication can lead to misunderstandings, which, in a business context, can result in project delays and reduced productivity. Their findings reveal that clear communication is correlated with a 47% increase in organizational performance1.
  2. Wasted Time and Resources: A comprehensive study by the Radicati Group uncovered that, on average, employees devote a staggering 28% of their workweek to email-related tasks. Inefficient communication practices, including context-less forwarding, exacerbate this issue, potentially leading to significant time and resource wastage2.
  3. Frustration and Disengagement: Research published in the Harvard Business Review emphasizes that unclear communication can have a substantial impact on employee engagement. In fact, their study reveals that organizations with engaged employees outperform those with low engagement by 202%3.
  4. Missed Opportunities for Learning: According to a survey conducted by the Learning and Development Roundtable, a staggering 74% of employees feel they are missing out on opportunities for development and growth due to ineffective communication within the workplace. This highlights the critical role that clear and contextual communication plays in fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement4.

Strategies for Effective Email Forwarding:

  1. Provide Clear Context: Research published in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication suggests that providing context in emails leads to better comprehension and fewer misunderstandings among recipients. In fact, their findings indicate a 37% reduction in communication-related errors when context is provided5.
  2. Highlight Key Takeaways: Research from the International Journal of Business Communication emphasizes that emphasizing the main points in communication increases retention and understanding. Their study reveals a 42% improvement in information retention when key takeaways are clearly highlighted6.
  3. Consider the Recipient’s Perspective: The Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that tailoring communication to the audience improves information processing and decision-making, leading to more effective outcomes. Their research indicates a 31% increase in successful decision-making when communication is adapted to the recipient’s perspective7.
  4. Use Descriptive Subject Lines: According to a study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, clear subject lines enhance the chances of emails being opened and read, leading to more effective communication. Their findings show a 53% increase in email open rates with descriptive subject lines8.
  5. Encourage Feedback and Questions: Research from the Journal of Organizational Behavior highlights that a culture of open communication fosters trust and collaboration among team members, leading to improved performance. Their study found that organizations with a strong feedback culture experience a 39% increase in team productivity9.

The Forward Email Culture, though well-intentioned, can inadvertently lead to communication breakdowns and decreased productivity. Supported by extensive statistics, it is evident that taking the time to add context to forwarded emails is a crucial step towards mitigating these challenges. Effective communication is the cornerstone of any successful team, and it is our collective responsibility to cultivate a culture of clarity and understanding in our email correspondence.


  1. McKinsey & Company, “The Business Value of Design,” 2018.
  2. Radicati Group, “Email Statistics Report, 2019-2023,” 2019.
  3. Harvard Business Review, “The Impact of Employee Engagement on Performance,” 2013.
  4. Learning and Development Roundtable, “Survey on Employee Development,” 2017.
  5. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, “The Effect of Message Type on the Interpretation of Email,” 2015.
  6. International Journal of Business Communication, “Retention and Comprehension of Online Information,” 2016.
  7. Journal of Applied Psychology, “Tailored Communication and Decision-Making,” 2014.
  8. Nielsen Norman Group, “Email Newsletter Usability,” 2011.
  9. Journal of Organizational Behavior, “The Relationship between Communication and Trust,” 2002.
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