#5 impact of email overload on psychological health in the workplace

Constant pressure to respond

In many studies, staff at all levels have revealed a strong sense of pressure to respond to incoming email in a very short time frame. In fact, one study reported that 70 per cent of recipients responded to their email within six seconds, with 85 per cent responding within two minutes.

While prompt responses are sometimes part of explicit organisational policy, this pressure to respond quickly has developed as a norm and several studies report a tangible impact of this normative pressure to respond quickly can lead to strain, overload, compulsive checking and reactive decision-making.

One large scale survey of academic and administrative staff at an Australian university found that when response pressure is combined with high email volumes, this resulted in a greater experience of email overload and uncertainty with a detrimental impact to cognitive, decision-making and strain and this was linked with self-reported ‘emotional exhaustion’.

Other studies report that workers are calling for explicit policy on response times, in order to feel both protected from these pressures.

In addition, a culture where email use had become highly embedded in one’s work (and therefore likely to consume major portions of people’s daily work activity), combined with norms for quick responding leads to these behaviours becoming automated/habitual and even compulsive, creating addictive tendencies for the individual.

In particular, the studies suggested that, addictive, automatic and habitual behaviours were more likely to emerge.

Steuart Snooks