Do your email habits impact your psychological health?

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A recent questionnaire, designed and analyzed by the Future Work Centre, gives an insight into how the way we manage our emails might negatively impact our lives.

As technology has advanced over recent years, one mode of communication has raced to the fore: email.

Whether you are an architect, archaeologist or accountant, your inbox will be where you spend a substantial amount of time.

When the first electronic mails were sent in the 1970s, people would have scarcely believed that in just a few decades we would all be checking them from handheld devices in our pockets.

The Future Work Centre’s agenda for 2015/16 is to investigate the impact of technology at work from a psychological perspective. This investigation, centered around emails, is just one part of their data mining mission.

Although email is an incredibly useful tool, as the researchers state, it is a “double-edged sword.” As the volume of emails goes up, so can stress levels. Emails can disrupt you from more pressing tasks, interrupt your train of thought or, even worse, impact your home life.

The Future Work Centre set out to unearth differences in individual approaches to email management and how they can affect stress levels, work-life balance and general happiness.

Results of the questionnaire

The group’s questionnaire was sent to almost 2,000 working individuals across the UK within a variety of sectors. They asked questions relating to technology, behavior, demographics and personality.

Dr. Richard MacKinnon, of the Future Work Centre, says:

“Our research shows that email is a double-edged sword. Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it’s clear that it’s a source of stress or frustration for many of us. The people who reported it being most useful to them also reported the highest levels of email pressure.

But the habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages and the unwritten organizational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and well-being.”

The results are to be presented on Thursday, January 7, 2016, at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference.

The headline findings are as follows:

  • “Push” email:people who used “push” notifications had an increased perception of email pressure
  • 24 Hours:those who left their emails running all day long also reported more email pressure
  • When to check:individuals who checked their emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night were more likely to perceive email pressure
  • Managers:compared with non-managers, managers were more likely to experience perceived email pressure.

Recommendations on managing emails

The team at Future Work Centre aimed to set out guidelines to moderate the amount of stress and pressure generated by emails. At the same time, they concede that there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution, there are simply too many factors: personality type, job role, level of seniority, the list goes on.

Here are some of their recommendations split into sections for individuals and organizations:

Individuals

  • 62% of those surveyed left their email running all day. The group suggests that people should check their email only when they need to and leave it off at other times. Consider deactivating push notifications
  • If you do feel email pressure and work seems to leach into your home life, stop checking emails outside of work hours
  • If the volume of emails you receive makes you feel pressurized, consider sending less yourself. One phone conversation can remove the need for a long email thread.

Organizations

  • Create a clear picture of the email situation in your company. Look for overall quantities of email and check for duplications. Once an overall picture has been built up, relevant actions can be considered
  • If none are in place, introduce guidelines about the style, tone and content of emails
  • Promote other forms of communication such as instant messaging, face-to-face meetings, webinars and teleconferences
  • Check role models – are senior managers sending emails late at night and at the weekend? How is the tone of their emails likely to be perceived? For instance, an email written on a smartphone late at night is less likely to be as tactful as one written at a keyboard during the working day.

As the team admits, this is a preliminary study; more work needs to be done to tease apart cause and effect. The points raised are interesting and, with technology racing ahead, this will not be the last call for action in regard to office-based stress.

Medical News Today recently covered research that looked at the impact of airtight offices on cognitive function.

Written by Tim Newman

 

 

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