American research has shown that disconnecting from your email at work lessens stress and boosts concentration.
In a joint study between the University of California-Irvine (UCI) and the U.S. Army, the researchers monitored 13 computer-dependent employees in an office for eight days, the last five of which were without email. Heart rate monitors and software sensors were used to determine stress levels and how often people switched windows on their computers.
The team found that when using email, people changed windows 37 times per hour on average and had more constant heart rates in a continuous “high alert” state. However, when without email, people only switched screens about 18 times per hour, and had more normal, variable heart rates.
“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said study co-author Gloria Mark at UCI in a press release.
The participants were surveyed to determine whether working in an “email-free” environment influenced their feelings about multitasking and productivity, time pressure, and frustration.
While not using email, the workers felt more able to do their jobs and stay focused with fewer stressful, time-consuming interruptions. Generally, they preferred to interact in person, although they did report some feelings of isolation.
Thus employees’ productivity could be increased by controlling email access, for example through specific login times or batched messages.
“Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” Mark said. “We need to experiment with that.”
Also, walking to a colleague’s desk to communicate verbally provided physical relief from work stress, which is linked with various health problems. The “fight or flight” hormone cortisol is present in higher amounts when people have constant “high alert” heart rates.
The research was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Texas on May 7.
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