The Psychology Behind Email Response Time

Katie Sweeney

While I’ve read articles about email etiquette, email hacks for productivity, and CEO-approved email habits, I’ve yet to come across a discussion of email response time—until today. Forbes is highlighting a new study from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering that explains the psychology of email response time. The survey addresses some common questions: When you send an email, how long should you wait for a reply without following up? If you haven’t received a response in a week, is it safe to assume you won’t get a reply? “During this age of information overload, understanding the psychology of email communication could help you gain a competitive edge,” explains Amy Morin. “Knowing what to expect from others, and how to optimize the messages you’re sending, could be the key to your digital communication success.” Researchers examined more than two million users exchanging 16 billion emails over the course of several months and discovered some interesting communication patterns. Here are their most significant findings.

  • Fifty percent of replies are sent in less than 60 minutes.
  • Most people reply within a day or two. But after 48 hours have passed, there is little chance of a response.
  • Teenagers respond in 13 minutes or less. The average response time of millennials is 16 minutes while people between the ages of 35 and 50 reply in 24 minutes. Adults over the age of 50 take 47 minutes to reply and are known to write longer messages than their younger counterparts.
  • Gender only plays a small role. Woman take about four minutes longer to reply than men.
  • The device matters. Respondents who use a laptop to reply to emails take twice as long as those who reply on mobile phones.
  • Users imitate one another when it comes to email length. If you’ve written five paragraphs, expect a response that is a similar length.
  • The best time to email someone and get an immediate response is a weekday morning. On weekends and in the afternoons, replies are shorter and less likely.
  • If you want a reply, keep the email short. Writing a long email may cause the reader to skim it and miss key points. If it’s too long to read, you will not get a reply.
  • The average email response is only five words long. Keep your communications short and sweet, and you’ll get plenty of speedy replies.

Answer emails anywhere on a tablet—make sure yours is kept safe in a chic cover.

What’s your average email response time?

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