Email – yet more stress at the office?
A unique study by Loughborough University has found a direct link between workplace stress and email use.
The research by Professor Tom Jackson, Dr Gillian Ragsdell, and Laura Marulanda-Carter explored the physiological and psychological impact of email on employees at a UK government agency. It tracked the blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels amongst a group of 30 staff, as well as paper-based diaries kept by the participants.
The findings show a direct link between email and stress and indicate that employees were more prone to increased stress when reading and sending emails, and less susceptible when retrieving and filing email messages. This was indicated not only by raised cortisol levels, but also increased blood pressure and heart rate.
The research also found that employees were glad to receive new email for timely information, in response and in gratification for work complete. However they were particularly annoyed to receive new email when irrelevant, an immediate response was required or when it interrupted and distracted them from their work tasks. The participants in their diaries also raised a number of adverse effects of email use, such as increased expectations, misinterpretation, alienation and blame culture.
But as Prof Jackson explains, email is not the enemy. “Over the years email has been the focus of many research studies and is sometimes portrayed as a bad communication medium,” he adds.
“Indeed, this study has shown that email causes stress when compared to having email free time. However, if email is compared to other ways of communicating – which was also observed in this study – email is no worse than any other media. Multi-tasking email alongside other communication media, such as phone and face-to-face meetings, increases the risk of becoming stressed.
The key to reducing workplace stress is better training for staff on how to manage their communication media, from better diary control to limiting how often they check their email accounts. Stress can lead to long term chronic health conditions such as hypertension, thyroid disease, heart failure and coronary artery disease so it is vital it is managed.”
Prof Jackson has written a guide on optimising email use, as well an interactive spread sheet which gives an indication of how much poor email management can cost businesses. For further information visit www.drthomasjackson.com