Email has changed the way we do business. Long gone are the days when ‘snail mail’ arrived at your home or office, and in time, the letters were answered according to their level of importance and urgency.
The literature is now rich in studies regarding employees constantly reporting the stress that email is creating in the workplace.
A study in 2012 by Professor Tom Jackson from Loughborough University in the UK explored the physiological and psychological impact of email on employees at a UK government agency, using blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels and paper-based diaries as outcome measurement tools.
The findings show a link between email and stress and indicate that employees were more prone to increased stress during information gathering (reading) and sharing (sending) activities, and less susceptible during information management and retrieval activities (finding and filing email messages).
The participants who showed increased blood pressure and heart rate recorded a heightened cortisol response during email use, with highest levels observed in the early morning followed by continued gradual decline and lowest levels reported at the end of the day. Email overload was reported as the key issue by 26 of the 30 participants in the study who were closely monitored.
Jackson’s findings were similar to those of Hair et al in 2007. This research showed that employees were glad to receive new email for timely information, in response and in gratification for work complete. Employees were particularly annoyed and stressed when receiving new email when irrelevant, an immediate response was required or when it interrupted and distracted them from their work tasks.
Five other studies apart from Jackson’s have all come up with very similar conclusions that when information is organised and when email is filed, a sense of well-being (i.e. low blood pressure, normal heart rate and cortisol levels) occurs.
Also researchers found that multi-tasking email alongside other communication media, such as phone and face-to-face meetings, increases the risk of becoming stressed.
The authors final comments are very important to note…
“With multifunctional devices like Blackberry’s and iPhones allow workers to be accessible 24-hours a day unlike ever before and because of this it is likely that there will be an increase in stress levels. (What he hypothesisedin 2012 has proven to be correct). Another concerning aspect is that many employees do not realise that they are stressed, as in this study users perceived themselves not to be stressed when the physiological findings showed their bodies were under increased stress. This would indicate that employees might find it difficult to self-regulate their use of communication media to ensure they do not become overwhelmed by stress. The significance of this is that long term short sharp increases such as this can lead to long term chronic health conditions such as hypertension, thyroid disease, heart failure and coronary artery disease.”