January 7, 2016
New research being presented today at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in Nottingham suggests that it’s not just the volume of emails that causes stress; but well-meaning habits and a need to feel in control. The research by Dr Richard MacKinnon from the Future Work Centre, suggests many people have developed some bad habits when it comes to managing email. Nearly half of those surveyed have emails automatically sent to their inbox (push notifications) and 62 percent left their email on all day. Those who checked email early in the morning and late at night may think they are getting ahead, but they could be making things worse, as the study showed that these habits were linked to higher levels of stress and pressure. The research also shows the role personality plays in our experience of email and how email has the potential to both positively and negatively impact our work-life balance.
The Future Work Centre asked nearly 2,000 working people across a variety of industries, sectors and job roles in the UK about their experience of using email. The research explored whether factors such as technology, behaviour, demographics and personality played a role in people’s perception of email pressure.
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 of 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.”
The research found that managers experience significantly higher levels of perceived email pressure when compared to non-managers and that higher email pressure was associated with more examples of work negatively impacting home life and home life negatively impacting performance at work.
Personality appears to moderate the relationship between perceived email pressure and work-life balance. People who rate their own ability and sense of control over their environment lower find that work interferes more with their home life, and vice versa.
Dr Richard MacKinnon said “Despite organisations attempting to shape policies and procedures to minimise the negative impact of email, it’s clear one-size-fits-all advice is ineffective. People are different both in terms of how they perceive stress and how and where they work. What works for some is unlikely to work for others. We came up with a few tips to help some of those bad habits.”
- To the early morning/late night checkers – put your phone away, do you really need to check your email?
- How about planning your day and prioritising your work, before the priorities of others flood your inbox?
- Consider turning off ‘push notifications’ and/or turning off your email app for portions of the day, and take control of when you receive email.
You can read the full research report here.
The Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference takes place from the 6 to 8 January 2015 at the East Midlands Conference Centre, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RJ. See the conference website.