Removing email from employees’ daily lives can reduce stress and allow them to focus far better, according to new research.
In a new study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the U.S. Army, heart rate monitors were attached to computer users in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows.
People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates, researchers found.
“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said Gloria Mark, Ph.D., a co-author of the study, which was funded by the Army and the National Science Foundation.
Participants were civilian employees at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston who were dependent on their computers to complete their assigned tasks at work. Those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.
Measurements bore that out, Mark said. People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without changed screens half as often — about 18 times in an hour.
The findings could be useful for boosting productivity, she said, adding employers may want to consider controlling email login times or batching messages.
“Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” she noted. “We need to experiment with that.”
Mark noted it was hard to recruit volunteers for the study, but participants were much happier at the end of the five days. They “loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was OK,” she said. “In general, they were much happier to interact in person.”
Getting up and walking to someone’s desk offered physical relief as well, she said. Other research has shown that people with steady “high alert” heart rates have more cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Stress on the job, in turn, has been linked to a variety of health problems.
The only downside to the experience was that the individuals without email reported feeling somewhat isolated, Mark said, noting they were able to garner critical information from colleagues who did have email.
Source: University of California Irvine