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UCI study: Email disrupts work, increases stress

Employees cut off from emails reported feeling less out of control.

May 04, 2012|By Lauren Williams

If you feel like the ping of an email pulls you away from that deadline you're trying to reach, you're not alone.

According to a recent UC Irvine study, employees who were constantly plugged in to email were less focused, multitasked more often and had a higher stress levels than their unplugged counterparts.

Researchers cut off 13 employees — including a chemical engineer, materials scientist, psychologist, biologist and food technologist — from email for five days after monitoring their normal activity for three.

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Thirty-six additional employees, whose email access was unchanged, were surveyed on their stress levels.

Through interviews, a computer activity log and heart rate monitors, researchers were able to determine that those with email switched windows on their computer an average of 37 times an hour, about twice as often as those without email, who changed windows about 18 times an hour.

Also the amount of time spent on each window was greater in the email-free environment, according to the study.

Stress levels also seemed to be affected by the email vacation.

In interviews after the study, one email-free participant told researchers that normally "my work has become how to manage email."

Researchers said that constant emails created the feeling that people couldn't manage their work because their emails were out of control.

One person told researchers after the study that "[email] ruled my life — that made me feel depressed, and now I feel liberated [without email]."

The one downside: Those disconnected from emails reported feeling isolated.

Researchers suggest reading emails in batches and having organizations put information normally distributed through email onto an intranet website.

The researchers are expected to present their study at the Assn. for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Computer Human Interaction conference in Austin, Texas, on Monday.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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