How you manage your emails may be bad for your health

Research presented at the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology's annual conference later this week suggests that it’s not just the volume of emails that causes stress; it’s our well-intentioned habits and our need to feel in control that backfires on us.

The study, carried out by Dr Richard MacKinnon from 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. They explored whether factors such as technology, behaviour, demographics and personality played a role in people’s perception of email pressure. 

The results suggest many people have developed bad habits when it comes to managing email. Nearly half of those surveyed had emails automatically sent to their inbox (push notifications) and 62 per cent left their email on all day. Those who checked email early in the morning and late at night may believe they were getting ahead, but they could actually be making things worse, as the study showed that these habits were linked to higher levels of stress and 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.”

“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 more about the study in reports by The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Daily Mail.

The full report is available on the Future Work Centre's website. 

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.