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Ubiquitous Work E-Mails May Harm Mental Health

man wired to floor SSA UK research study suggests workers obsessed with checking their emails could be damaging their own mental health, and that of their colleagues.

Dr. Emma Russell, an occupational psychologist, has identified seven deadly email sins that can lead to “negative repercussions’ if not handled correctly.

According to Russell, some of the worst habits include “ping pong” messages back and forth and “read receipts,” which accompany every missive sent.

“Back in the dial-up era, when going online had a cost implication, most people checked email maybe once a day and often responded to mails as soon as they read them,” she said.

“Now with broadband and 3G, unlimited numbers of messages can be streamed to you via your smartphone at any time of the day or night.

“However, many of us haven’t adapted our behavior to what can seem like a constant stream of mails,” Russell explained.

Responding to out of hour’s emails, for instance, may make an employee look good but it can also mean workers find it difficult to switch off, according to the study.

“This puts pressure on staff to be permanently on call and makes those they are dealing with feel the need to respond,” Russell explained.

“Some workers became so obsessed by email that they even reported experiencing so-called ‘phantom alerts’ where they think their phone has vibrated or bleeped with an incoming email when in fact it has not.

“Others said they felt they needed to physically hold their smartphone when they were not at their desk so that they were in constant email contact.”

Email ping pong, where messages are responded to immediately by both sides until a very long chain builds up, appears to be particularly hated.

Russell analyzed 28 email users across different companies to see which habits had positive and negative influences on their working lives. She identified seven habits which can be positive if used in moderation but are likely to have a negative impact if not handled correctly.

“This research reminds us that even though we think we are using strategies for dealing with our email at work, many of them can be detrimental to other goals and the people that we work with,” Russell said.

Some create a problem for the sender rather than the receiver, she said, as they can lead to them giving out the wrong impression or not remaining in control of what they are doing.

For example, having email alerts switched on and responding to email immediately can have positive benefits if one wants to show concern to the person who has emailed them.

However, it may have negative repercussions in terms of the sender feeling that responding to emails is taking them away from other tasks and impacting on their sense of well-being.

Russell outline the following seven deadly email sins:

  1. Ping pong – constant emails back and forth creating long chains;
  2. Emailing out of hours;
  3. Emailing while with company;
  4. Ignoring emails completely;
  5. Requesting read receipts;
  6. Responding immediately to an email alert;
  7. Automated replies.

Source: Alpha Galileo/Kingston University


Man wired to wired through the floor photo by shutterstock.

Ubiquitous Work E-Mails May Harm Mental Health

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Ubiquitous Work E-Mails May Harm Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 20 Jan 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.