As home working becomes more widespread, employees are overwhelmed by digital demands. They waste more and more time checking notifications on WhatsApp group chats, for example – but, above all, spend too much time sorting through their inboxes, which has a detrimental effect on their concentration and productivity.
Employees send and receive dozens of emails a day, whatever their sector of activity. None of them would dream of giving up email, even though many complain about the workload involved in managing these messages.
In fact, 40% of employees spend two to three hours a day checking and replying to their email messages, according to a recent survey by LiveCareer, a UK-based jobs website, of 1,032 workers.
Every year, employees reportedly spend the equivalent of three weeks or even a month sorting through their work inboxes. This represents a considerable waste of time for companies, but especially for those who work in them.
It’s also not uncommon for people to glance at their email messages outside office hours. In fact, 84% of employees surveyed by LiveCareer check their work inbox in their own time, and 49% do so every “few hours” – a bad habit that contributes to blurring the boundary between professional and private lives, even if it may seem harmless.
Checking email at all times of day can put us into a permanent state of alertness, which can have harmful effects on our concentration and increase the risk of burnout.
Initially perceived as a real time-saver, email has become time-consuming and tyrannical. Managers and employees send email messages to one another all the time instead of using the phone or professional messaging systems such as WhatsApp.
As a result, many professionals struggle to keep up with the pace of all these email exchanges. Some feel obliged to respond to these digital demands within an hour of receiving them, as revealed in the latest data from France’s OICN, a body that studies the social, organisational and environmental impacts of information overload.
This demand for hyper-availability and hyper-reactivity creates additional stress and anxiety among employees, who fear missing out on important information – or looking like a slacker – if they don’t keep an eye on their work mailbox.
This excess of email, that researchers have dubbed “email overload”, interferes with employees’ concentration and increases their mental load. An overloaded inbox is quickly perceived as a lack of organisation and, above all, a lack of control over working time.
Add to this the abundance or even overuse of meetings, and a feeling of panic can ensue.
However, a number of safeguards have been put in place in recent years to prevent the effects of this trend, including, for French employees, the effective implementation of the right to disconnect. But companies are still struggling to get to grips with the issue, even if some have introduced email-free days to relieve their workers of this burden.
OICN recommends clarifying modes of communication between employees, making sparing use of the reply-all function, and thinking twice before copying others into email messages. The organisation also recommends that no one should have to manage more than 100 email messages a day.