One of the benefits of email is that it is 24/7. You can send out a message to your team knowing that many of them will get it immediately and that everyone else will see it within hours. Gone are the days of having to print something and send it via some mail system meaning that it takes days for anything to happen. Email has speeded up communications providing businesses with considerable productivity benefits.
That, of course, is what we think. But what we think is not always true.
The 24/7 nature of email means that the people we work with, our customers and our potential clients are always available. There is almost never any “downtime” when they can be separated from us. Millions of people check their emails before going to bed each night – just to see if there are any last messages from the boss or from their customers. We are never disconnected from them.
That situation could have psychological consequences. Recent research from Texas shows that the 24/7 nature of work-related emails is not good at all. In a study of 341 employees the researchers found that the constant checking of “out-of-hours” emails led to increases in conflict and anger amongst workers.
The study found that there was a particular kind of person – the “segmentor” – which was particularly badly affected by out-of-hours emails. The segmentors are the people who want to see a clear divide between home and work, yet the constant battering of emails reduces this desired division. As a result these people have an increase in anger and conflict.
It may seem a good idea to have the instant ability to send out a message at any time of the day or night, but are we aware enough of the impact we are having? It seems that we are potentially affecting the personal lives of the people we communicate with, as well as increasing problems at work.
If people have increased conflict and anger in their life, their work performance suffers. So, far from email improving communication and productivity it could be the root of difficulties in the office, leading to several unforeseen impacts.
What is the answer? Easy. Treat email as a 9-to-5 system. Simply ban out-of-hours emails. Your productivity will increase and you will have a happier workforce, leading to other beneficial impacts in the office.
Believing that the 24/7 nature of email is the saviour of your business productivity could be the foundation for a wide array of office problems.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+