CIPD: Employees’ obsessive need to check emails out of working hours is having a detrimental effect on both productivity and family relationships, Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University told delegates at the British Psychological Society conference this week. Britons work the longest hours Monday to Friday in the developed world, and “we’re most substantial user of technology than almost any other country,” he said, which was contributing to an already over-worked nation.
But email “isn’t work” he added and excessive email communication had caused the UK’s employees to ‘burnout’ and become less productive than many of their international counterparts.
According to ONS figures, the UK has the second-lowest rate of productivity out of the leading G7 industrial nations.
Speaking to People Management after the event Cooper said: “While new technology like email and mobile are supposed to be a support system for individuals, instead the information overload is adding more pressure.”
“Email demands immediate response, which has become a real problem because we’re not managing it, it is managing us,” he added.
An inundation of often unnecessary emails, and the increasing ease and accessibility to work beyond the desk without any appropriate boundaries was seriously damaging the UK’s health, Cooper said.
“Something like a quarter of people are checking their emails on holiday and almost everybody is checking their emails at home at night, long after they’ve ‘left’ work.”
“It’s already been proven to cause health problems but it is also causing family destruction. If both members of the family are accessing their emails at home, then who is spending personal, disposable time with their children, or extended family?” he asked.
The extra hours spent ‘dealing’ with emails was also taking away from people’s core responsibilities at work, and he suggested one way to tackle the compulsion was to ban emails sent and received within the same building.
“Some employers are reacting by closing down their servers over night, that may be an answer if people don’t actually begin to mange their own time and health properly,” Cooper said.
“The other thing we could do is design email systems that feedback to individuals when we are working too much out of hours. For example, you get an alert saying ‘you sent 30 work related emails on Saturday. Stop it, go spend it with your family’.”
Cooper said he wasn’t advocating every organisation start unplugging their systems: “It would never work for global companies in the City for example, but I just think doing that for a week for example might send a message,” he said.
When asked whether HR should be monitoring email usage, Cooper said that was a step too far.
“HR and senior management need to provide guidelines for everybody which says we don’t want workaholics here, we want people who are fresh, who bring value, creativity and innovation and that isn’t going to happen if you’re working all the time,” he said.