Simple ways to reduce the stress and pressure of work email

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.

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