You’ll want to avoid this ‘toxic source of stress’ in 2016

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Looking for a stress-free 2016? Psychologists say it might be time to switch off your email popups, or find your own way to stop email from taking over your life.

If you find yourself checking email before bed (or even in the middle of the night) and being distracted from the task at hand by the constant flash of your email popup, you’re not alone. In fact, you probably know it’s not good for you.

Research has already shown that email notifications can interrupt your flow (productivity hat, anyone?) and cut into your work/life balance. Even looking at the glowing screen at night can stop you sleeping properly.

Now a new report by psychologists at the Future Work Centre reveals that email notifications, and checking emails late at night, puts us under pressure and causes stress. We don’t all experience it the same way though – the stress we feel depends on our personality. The report authors say this means there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to reducing email stress.

Emails are great: they’re convenient and quick, you can send them to anyone at any time, and you can answer them when you’re ready. 2.6 billion people use email worldwide, for an average of an hour a day; if you work in an office, you might spend much more time reading and replying to messages. In fact, 108 billion of the 196 billion emails sent in 2014 were work-related.

Christina Patino, Corporate Programmes Co-ordinator for the Bradford University School of Management, told BBC Breakfast:

[Email] does cause a lot of stress because people feel they need to give off the impression that they’re constantly working, and a lot of times this can be due to poor performance reviews or a lack of training as to what employees should be doing with their time or how they should be prioritising their work.

Read on...

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The researchers behind the new report say emails are a double-edged sword: there’s no agreed code of conduct, they can be misunderstood and they’re definitely not always useful.

Future Work Centre surveyed almost 2,000 people in the UK, asking them about their use of email and experience of pressure and stress. The psychologists asked people questions about things like whether they feel pressure from colleagues or clients to check email outside of working hours and whether work-related emails are the cause of arguments or friction in their personal life.

The research revealed a “strong relationship between using ‘push’ email and perceived email pressure.” This means that if you get automatic notifications, or popups, when you receive emails, you’re more likely to experience higher pressure related to email. This was particularly true for people who leave their emails on all day, rather than checking them at set times.

The report found that the pressure and stress depends on the person and their personality. The report says “People who rate their own ability and sense of control over their environment lower find that work interferes more with their home life, and vice versa.”

They also found the stress was more pronounced in younger people and managers. Psychologist Richard

, Future Work Centre’s Insight Director who wrote the report, explained to BBC Breakfast:

Email pressure was much higher with younger respondents and it trailed off with age. We think it could be for a number of reasons. Number one, you get better at dealing with email, at prioritising. But younger people tend to have more inboxes – social media as well as email – so they’re probably juggling more of these things.

MacKinnon and his colleagues now plan to examine their findings in more detail to understand how to best manage email-related stress.

The new report adds another piece to the puzzle when it comes to understanding what effect email has on our lives. While it doesn’t directly show cause and effect, it reveals a strong link between automatic notifications, pressure and stress. So if you’re suffering from constant email disturbances, it might be a good time to switch off your notifications and go cold-turkey in 2016.


Featured image: Jason Rogers/Flickr



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