Overloaded on email

25/11/2003 - 21:00


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A RECENT study by the Australian Psychological Society has found that email is a significant cause of job related stress.

A RECENT study by the Australian Psychological Society has found that email is a significant cause of job related stress. And while that may not surprise many users of the technology, the study also points to education as the best means to deal with the issue.

Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that managers and workers are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of electronic messages that demand immediate attention throughout a working day.

With the prolific use of email comes an expectation of speedier response times from those who are sending the emails, and a heightened sense of urgency when dealing with business matters.

The results of the APS study indicated that email now dominates written forms of communication in business and contributes to feelings of stress in 69 per cent of the 1,109 managers surveyed across Australia.

APS researcher Dr Amanda Gordon said managers felt swamped by the number of emails they received – from 30 to 50 emails per day – with some receiving up to 100 messages daily.

It’s a frustrating problem for managers, who must wade through masses of legitimate messages and spam, and engineer strategies to cope with the volume of email and the stress and distraction it creates.

For example, in a somewhat traditional approach to a very modern problem, one Perth-based businessman recently sent an email to his entire address book announcing that all future electronic correspondence would be vetted by his personal assistant in order to cope with the ever increasing load.

Predicting the onslaught of email and the problems it would create, Perth-based IT consultant Neil Hymans established a business in 1999 to teach companies how to deal with the issue of email proliferation.

Through his business, Technically Speaking, Mr Hymans researches commercial email usage and provides training to businesses and their employees on appropriate and time-efficient use of email.

Mr Hymans said while email may once have been referred to as a ‘killer software application’, he considers that to now be literally true, citing it as a major cause of declining productivity.

Research undertaken by Technically Speaking had indicated that almost all users of email in the workplace experienced frequent distractions caused by incoming messages.

Mr Hymans said office workers spent an average one or two hours a day dealing with email messages.

“Every time I raise the subject with senior managers there is acknowledgment that no-one has any idea of how much time email sucks up,” he said.

“Although everyone agrees that email is a critical communication tool, there is an almost universal sense of resignation that it is out of control and that any notion of ‘best email practice’ is a total mystery.”

He said addressing the problem of inappropriate use of email by employees was a relatively simple procedure for businesses.

“Most organisations now have guidelines for acceptable use of computer resources in the workplace,” Mr Hymans told WA Business News.

“Unfortunately, these usually focus solely on statutory issues, and ignore factors influencing productivity, such as when employees should use email and how they should use it.”

Professional organisations such as the APS and the Worldwide Centre for Organisational Development agree, stating the solution to email overload lies in influencing the behaviour of workers in relation to the use of the technology.



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