Break From E-mails Boosts Job Productivity
EMAIL vacations while on the job could benefit people’s health, reducing stress levels and contributing to better focus, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and the US Army found that a group of workers who were cut off from office email use for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates and switched between computer windows only half as much.
Study co-author Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the university, said the findings could help boost productivity in offices that choose to implement these email vacations, either by controlling email login times, batching messages or through other strategies.
Mark and her colleagues presented the study this week at a meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery, in Austin, Texas.
Research presented at scientific conferences is considered preliminary and has not been peerreviewed.
Thirteen civilian employees at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center, near Boston, took part in a three-day baseline data-collection phase, including interviews about their existing multitasking and email usage, and a five-day no-email period. All participants, who were split between men and women, were information workers whose job titles included chemical engineer, psychologist, materials scientist, biologist, food technologist and research administrator.
Co-workers who continued reading emails switched screens twice as often and were in a steady “high-alert” state, with more constant heart rates, while those removed from email had more natural, variable heart rates, according to the study.
They reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.
“While the study focused on email . . . it really got at some important issues such as multitasking, focus and being present at what we do on a day-to-day basis,” said David Ballard, head of the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program.
Despite the small number of participants, the results were robust, researcher Mark said, and the only downside participants reported was feeling somewhat isolated — though they were able to gather certain necessary information face to face from colleagues who did have email access.
“I think as we focus on flexibility in the workplace and flexible work arrangements that it’s harder to implement an across-the-board solution like that,” Ballard added.
Mark said she’d like her future research to focus on how digital technology affects offline relationships, not just in the workplace.