Constant email updates are a source of stress that people should consider doing without, according to a report by psychologists.
They recommend not having the email app running at all times — which many users would regard as heresy. The report, from the London-based Future Work Centre, which conducts psychological research on workplace experiences, said emails were a “double-edged sword” of useful communication and stress.
Urging users to seize control of their email, instead of being ruled by it, the authors said: “You may want to consider launching your email application when you want to use email, and closing it down for periods when you don’t wish to be interrupted by incoming emails. In other words, use email when you intend to, not just because it’s always running in the background.”
The team surveyed almost 2000 working people across a range of industries and occupations in the UK about using email.
Two of the most stressful habits were leaving email on all day and checking emails early in the morning and late at night. There was a “strong relationship” between use of the ‘push’ feature, which automatically updates emails on devices as soon as they arrive, and perceived email pressure.
Higher email pressure was associated with work having a negative effect on home life, and home life having a negative impact on performance at work.
Lead author, Dr Richard MacKinnon, said: “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 organisational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress, which could be negatively impacting our productivity and wellbeing.” Email pressure was highest among younger people and steadily decreased with age, according to the findings presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual meeting, in Nottingham.
Those working in IT, marketing, public relations, the internet and media were most affected by email stress. Thirty percent of this group received more than 50 emails a day and 65% allowed their devices to update emails round the clock.
In 2014, an estimated 196.3 billion emails were sent around the world, according to the report.
Bertha R. Massie