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Work Email Can Be Counterproductive

Work Email Can Be Counterproductive for Managers

A new study suggests email may be just a hassle rather than a benefit for managers, unless the email is “well-managed.”

In fact, researchers from Michigan State University recommend that managers can improve their performance by checking their email less often.

Investigators explain that keeping up with email traffic places high demands on managers, which prevents them from achieving their goals and from being good leaders.

The research, led by management professor Russell Johnson and published in Journal of Applied Psychology, is one of the first to examine how distractions from email impact managers, their productivity and their role as leaders.

Researchers discovered that employees spend more than 90 minutes every day — or 7-1/2 hours every week — recovering from email interruptions. Managers, Johnson said, are no different, and their distractions have further-reaching implications.

“Like most tools, email is useful but it can become disruptive and even damaging if used excessively or inappropriately,” Johnson said.

“When managers are the ones trying to recover from email interruptions, they fail to meet their goals, they neglect manager-responsibilities and their subordinates don’t have the leadership behavior they need to thrive.”

Researchers explain that managers have different demands that other employees and when they feel overwhelmed and unproductive because of email demands, they respond by limiting leader behaviors and pivoting to tactical duties.

This action, Johnson said, is strategic and intentional so that they feel more productive. “Interestingly, we found that managers scaled back ‘leader behaviors’ more so than initiating ‘structure behaviors,'” Johnson said.

“The former behaviors relate to motivating and inspiring subordinates, talking optimistically about the future or explaining why work tasks are important; the latter are more concrete and task-focused, such as setting work goals, assigning duties or providing feedback.”

So, not only are managers not managing — but they’re also focusing on smaller tasks for the sake of feeling productive.

To test how email demands hinder managers, Johnson and colleagues collected surveys from a group twice a day for two weeks.

Managers reported their frequency and demands of emails, their perceived progress on core job duties, how often they engaged in effective transformational leader behaviors and initiating structure leader behaviors.

“We found that on days when managers reported high email demands, they report lower perceived work progress as a result, and in turn engage in fewer effective leader behaviors,” Johnson said.

Beyond failing to complete their own responsibilities, email distractions cause subordinates to suffer from a lack of leader behaviors, or those that motivate and inspire.

“When managers reduce their leader behavior and structure behaviors, it has been shown that employees’ task performance, work satisfaction, organizational commitment, intrinsic motivation and engagement all decrease, and employees’ stress and negative emotions increase,” Johnson said.

Importantly, Johnson said, leader behavior has a strong correlation to employee performance which, unfortunately, were the behaviors that got put on the back burner because of email distractions.

“The moral of the story is that managers need to set aside specific times to check email. This puts the manager in control — rather than reacting whenever a new message appears in the inbox, which wrestles control away from the manager,” Johnson said.

Source: Michigan State University

Work Email Can Be Counterproductive for Managers

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). Work Email Can Be Counterproductive for Managers. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2018/11/12/work-email-can-be-counterproductive-for-managers/138814.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Nov 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 12 Nov 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.