Carleton Study Finds People Spending a Third of Job Time on Email

Linda Duxbury and Andre Lanctot Find Strong Link between Email Overload, Stress and Missed Work

A Carleton University study that surveyed 1,500 people in six organizations found over half reported high levels of work overload and stress, much of it associated with spending so much time – a full one-third of their time at the office – reading and answering emails.

They also spend half of the time they work at home on email. And 30 per cent of the time, the emails they’re getting are neither urgent nor important.

The results suggest that organizations need to determine how to best help employees cope with widespread email overload and reduce volume through the use of appropriate policies, training and enforcement, said authors Linda Duxbury and Andre Lanctot.

“These culture changes, or bureaucracy, can be viewed as another type of spam filter to catch what the technology cannot be trained to block.’’

Some respondents reported unrealistic expectations of responding to all emails on a constant basis, or at least by the end of each day.

The typical survey respondent was a highly-educated baby boomer of gen-Xer. Nearly all were managers or professionals who had spent a substantive amount of time in their current jobs. Sixty per cent were women.

On average, they worked 47.2 hours a week. Ninety-two per cent also did work at home, an additional 9.5 hours a week. They reported less control over their work than desirable and high levels of role conflict (the degree of compatibility with requirements of the job).

The breakdown on email numbers:

  • Each week, the “typical’’ knowledge worker spends 11.7 processing email at work; 5.3 hours from home for a total of 17 hours or a third of their work week.
  • Each day, they send/receive 86 work-related emails at work and 25 from home.

Those who participated in the survey reported missing three days of work in a six-month period due to emotional fatigue, four days because of issues with child care and/or elder care and almost five days  due to ill health.

One in five reported thinking weekly about leaving their jobs.

The study was done to better understand how workers evaluate, classify and process email, quantify the number of work-related emails employees send and receive in a typical work week, and look at key indicators of employee well-being.

Among recommendations from those surveyed:

  • Reduce expectations of how quickly employees respond to email.
  • Hire a “floater’’ to handle straightforward email at peak periods.
  • Invest in better spam blockers.
  • Offer training about tools to manage email.
  • Develop workplace policy that spells out who should send what to whom and when.
  • Encourage personal strategies to manage email; pick a specific time to respond each day.

For more information and a copy of the report:

Steven Reid
Media Relations Officer
Carleton University
613-520-2600, ext. 8718
613-265-6613
Steven_Reid3@Carleton.ca

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