Simple ways to reduce the stress and pressure of work email

email stress at work

Technology has make it easy for us to access and reply to email 24/7.

Taking advantage of this, many organizations have an unwritten etiquette, for employees to be available on email even after they have left the workplace and often at odd hours.

While such flexibility can increase productivity, it can also have a negative impact on the well-being of employees, especially given the huge number of emails that can flow through some organizations. This in turn can lead to negative outcomes for organizations.

According to a workplace experience study performed by the London-based Future Work Centre, emails are a sort of “double-edged sword” due to their nature of being simultaneously useful and highly stressful.

The study interviewed nearly 2,000 people working across a range of industrial sectors, about the pressures associated with email.

Among other things, their findings revealed individuals who experienced higher stress and pressure from email, had the following habits:

  • Checking emails early in the morning and late at night.
  • Leaving email push notifications on all day.

The push notifications had a particularly “strong relationship” with perceived pressure and stress. Many people found that immediate notifications as soon as an email arrived, resulted in feelings of instant tension and worry.

These email stressors had negative effects at both work and home, putting stress on both environments, and causing poor performance at both locations.

Speaking on the issue, lead author Dr. Richard MacKinnon stated, “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.” Continuing his statements, MacKinnon said, “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 organizational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and wellbeing.”

The amount of pressure found in those surveyed was more intense in younger participants, and the pressure amounts slowly decreased the older the subject was. When looking at which industries were most affected by email pressures, marketing, IT, PR, and media participants found email stressors affected their lives the most. Of these groups, more than 30% received 50+ emails a day, and 65% had push notifications turned on.

Digital distraction and productivity experts suggest that some simple/practical ways to manage the pressure of email are to:

  1. Turn instant email notifications off, or at least limit them.
  2. Only open and check your email during certain allotted times of the day, when you want to use email. Keep this frequency as low as possible. This ensures that you use email as per your preferences, rather than revolving around it.
  3. Avoid checking email first thing in the morning and late at night.
  4. Move email discussions that can be had in-person or over the phone, to those mediums.
  5. Observe your email checking patterns and see which instances are really needed. Are you checking and responding to the emails because it’s really necessary, or just because you are assuming you need to. Experiment and see what happens if you don’t reply to certain messages after you’ve left work.

Bosses, avoid a high pressure and cut throat environment. If you want successful teams, do this instead

boss positive work environment leader

As per an article by Emma Seppälä (Stanford University) in the Harvard Business Review, many managers/companies fall into the trap of running a cutthroat, only the most aggressive get ahead, sort of work culture to try to gain success.

However, research focusing on positive psychology continues to show that such environments are actually toxic for teams and workplaces trying to get ahead.

Positive work environments, on the other hand, are consistently shown to help teams/companies boost their bottom line, and the overall happiness of their employees.

As a manager you may see the act of pushing your employees to the limit as an act that unlocks high performance. However, there are many hidden and negative effects as a result of this.

Health care expenditures at high-stress, high-pressure companies tend to be up to 50% higher than their lower-stress counterparts, according to the American Psychological Association. Additionally, 60% of workplace accidents, and 80% of employees’ visits to a doctor’s office can be directly attributed to stress factors in the workplace.

Highly stressed workers are more likely to get diseases, disabilities, or disorders that will negatively affect their ability to put forth their best performance.

Disengagement is another major negative effect of cut throat work environments. While tons of pressure from higher-ups may create brief engagement with work, it will inevitably lead to high stress levels that will lead to disengagement.

Given the following statistics on the effect of disengagement on employees, gathered by the Queens School of Business, the amount of pressure and stress in a workplace becomes troubling:

Disengaged workers were found to have and/or lead to:

  • 37% higher absenteeism
  • 60% more errors and defects
  • 49% more accidents
  • 37% lower job growth
  • 65% lower share price over time
  • 18% lower productivity

Loyalty is the third major factor that is affected by toxic workplace environments.

In fact, companies/teams with such environments have been found to have up to 50% more voluntary turnovers. Given how costly the replacement process for these workers can become, companies can most certainly profit by creating a workplace environment that reduces the need for replacements.

In fact, according to a study by The Center for American Progress, replacing even one single employee can end up costing the company up to 20% of that employee’s salary.

As a leader/manager, to ensure you avoid these downfalls in your teams and company, you must focus your efforts on creating a positive and healthy workplace, where wellbeing is a top priority.

What characteristics should you strive for, to create such a positive environment? According to research the following 6 things are essential:

  1. Showing interest in, caring for, and being responsible for workmates as friends.
  2. Providing support for each another, including providing help when others are struggling.
  3. Staying away from blame and forgiving mistakes.
  4. Inspiring each another.
  5. Highlighting the meaningfulness work.
  6. Treating each another with respect, integrity and trust.

As a leader/manager, to encourage these principles here are some things you can do:

Boost Social Connections & Interactions

The more positive social connections you have between the employees in your workplace, the better the stress levels and overall engagement will become.

Studies show that employees who work in a socially connected workplace lead much healthier lives overall.

Create More Empathy

A recent brain-imaging study has found that employees experience negative emotions and increased stress levels when recalling times when their bosses have been unkind or have lacked empathy toward them.

The opposite is true for bosses who show empathy.

Another study concludes that by showing empathy and compassion towards employees, managers can create teams which are very resilient, especially in tough times.

Help Whenever You Can

Some bosses will ignore the need for extra assistance in their workplace, leaving their employees to fend for themselves.

As per research at NYU, by going out of your way to help your employees, you will create teams that loyal and committed. They will also reciprocate/demonstrate such behaviour with you, as well as other colleagues.

Invite Employees to Open Up to You

Simply putting aside some time during the day where you talk to your staff, especially about problems they are experiencing can be very helpful.

Such a stance of openness and safety, results in better outcomes for performance and learning.

The more positive you can make a workplace, the better the wellbeing of both you and your employees. Begin focusing on the efforts listed above today, and you will begin seeing higher profits tomorrow.