10 February 2016

Work Email – A Double Edged Sword

Posted in News

Work email - source of stress

Since the introduction of email, it has rapidly grown as a popular and convenient method for communicating with people and organisations around the world.

However, with an increased reliance on, and volume of emails, the communication tool can create a source of stress, anxiety and loss of productivity for both individuals and organisations. A continuous stream of messages and interruptions makes it difficult for many of us to prioritise tasks and stay productive at work.

Email has become somewhat a double-edged sword, both assisting and negatively impacting on employees and work.

A Research Study into Email at Work

Future Work Centre’s study titled ‘You’ve got mail!’ investigates the impact that email has in the workplace. A survey of 2,000 people spread across a diverse range of jobs, industries and sectors in the UK, examines the issue of email pressure.

The Survey Findings:

  • Higher levels of email pressure are reported by people who use push emails. That is, automatically receiving emails to their devices.
  • People who have their email active all day are a lot more likely to experience email pressure.
  • Early morning or late night checking of emails is linked with higher levels of email pressure.
  • Non-managers experience considerably less email pressure compared with managers.
  • Those who report higher levels of email pressure, also report a greater interference between work and home.
  • Personality type is a key factor as to whether email pressure is experienced, and how it interferes with a work-life balance.

What Can You Do?

Because everyone is different, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to managing emails. There are a number of approaches that both individuals and employers can take depending on their circumstances and what works best for them in their experience of email.

Individuals:

  • Don’t leave your email on all day – open the email application only when you intend to use it, and turn it off until you need it again.
  • Take control of email notifications – turn off push email notifications if you find these distracting, and update your device to download emails only when you tell it to. This can allow you to better focus on other tasks.
  • Try not to check your work emails outside of working hours.
  • Consider whether you yourself are sending too many emails to colleagues or clients – are you causing unnecessary stress for someone else? Would a phone call be better for the message you’re trying to convey?
  • Check your email writing style – you should try and avoid ambiguity or potential for misinterpretation in emails to colleagues. Make your messages clear to avoid possible workplace conflicts and miscommunications.

Employers:

  • Make an effort to gain a clear picture of what is occurring regarding emails within your company – quantify the volume of email being sent between employees and their perceptions of email. This can be used to see if any company-wide changes or policies should be brought in.
  • Set out expectations and guidance on how email should be used when a new employee joins. Leaving uncertainty around email norms within your company can contribute to email pressure.
  • Introduce company-wide formal training in email usage – covering what you expect from email communication and issues such as work-life balance, productivity, and respect for colleagues.
  • Use a range of communication methods to suit the situation – for instance, instant messaging, teleconferencing, and face-to-face meetings may prove more suitable for the message you need to get across. Match the medium to the message.
  • Lead by example – be a role model to those under your wing in the organisational structure. If senior leaders are sending emails out of hours to employees, using ambiguous language in their messages, or sending too many emails, this sets a bad example for other employees.
  • If implementing an email process policy, make sure it isn’t inflexible – a one-size-fits-all approach won’t help, and some groups of people will need to use email differently to others. Make sure to get input from employees before bringing in an email process.

Although useful, email can contribute to higher levels of stress in the workplace. It is important to consider how email is used both personally and company-wide, to ensure that any email pressure can be addressed and avoided. A stress-free workplace will lead to less absences and greater productivity.