Are you compelled to open that email that just arrived? Welcome to the world of “workplace telepressure.”
Researchers at Northern Illinois University have presented an American Psychological Association paper on the “respond ASAP” business culture which, they found — no surprise here — interferes with actually getting work done and adds to workers’ stress, burnout and loss of control.
Similarly, a Harris poll for AtTask, a cloud-based work management tool, revealed a laundry list of workers’ complaints about demands on their time. Wasteful meetings, excessive emails, lack of standard workflow processes, poor prioritization, unexpected phone calls, and lack of communication within the organization were among frustrations.
The survey focused on “enterprise” workers, people who have some individual control over what they do. Those polled said only 45 percent of their work hours actually go to their primary job duties. The rest of the time is spent on email, daily tasks and meetings. The biggest complaint: excessive email.
Giving workers the benefit of the doubt — that they want and try to do well in their careers — it’s interesting that both reports suggested email overload is management’s problem to solve.
Organizational fiat probably can’t stem the tide of incoming email. But it may be possible to communicate response priorities more clearly. When action priorities aren’t clear, workers are afraid they’ll miss something important if they don’t read every missive the minute it lands.
Employers and employees would be well served by brief emails sent only to the relevant people. There should be priority labels on internal emails to signal ASAP or high importance. A good spam filter to keep irrelevant sends from hitting inboxes in the first place is essential. And the art of relevant and appropriate face-to-face communication should be encouraged.