Research conducted by Varonis, a provider of data governance software, found that surging numbers of e-mails cause workers to spend countless hours sorting, filing, flagging and tagging instead of focusing on action items. In fact, 43% of those surveyed routinely abandon their inboxes altogether in favour of a virtual coffee break.

The study, questioning employees about their digital habits and vices, found that nearly a quarter receive between 100 to 1,000 e-mails and one in ten workers now faces more than 10,000 e-mails in their inbox.

In their struggle to stay on top of this e-mail deluge, the study revealed three different approaches: 34% of those questioned are ‘filers’, clearing their inbox on a daily basis and filing messages into folders. On the opposite end of the spectrum, hoarders—who never delete messages—make up 17% of the workforce.

The majority of respondents, at 44%, appear to practice a hybrid of both practices to stay on top of their mailboxes. Of all those surveyed, 40% spend 30 minutes or more every day managing their e-mail, in addition to reading and responding, equating to 120 hours every year.

However, a small but telling niche of 6% admitted to completely giving up on maintaining control over their e-mail. David Gibson, VP of Strategy at Varonis, said: “We see a growing trend of people struggling and in some cases even giving up on – or deleting – their entire inboxes. It also appears that over-stretched employees are seeking more ways to clear their heads by taking virtual coffee breaks to browse the web or social networks.”

In fact, the research found that 43% of respondents switched off by scanning the web for news, followed by 28% who listened to music while working. Surprisingly, C-level employees and managers were more likely to take refuge with social media than employees, with over a quarter of management taking to twitter and nearly a third to Facebook. In comparison, just 1 in 10 employees uses Facebook, with even fewer workers tweeting at work.

“Whether they are distracted by a host of different media or simply slaving away to deal with their inboxes, if employees can’t regain control of the volumes of work they are bombarded with they are likely to make mistakes. Nearly two thirds of those we surveyed reported a mishap as a result of sending an e-mail by mistake — 1 in 20 even cited compliance issues as a result of a wrongly sent e-mail.

“The only way to throw workers a life belt is by utilising automation to help them organise, manage and prioritise their e-mail in a way that gives them visibility over what is important, when and to whom,” said Gibson.