- Managers who try to keep up with their inboxes may prevent themselves from reaching their goals and carrying out key tasks as leaders, a new study from Michigan State University found. Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the research examined how email traffic distracts managers and, ultimately, lowers their productivity.
- Employees use more than 90 minutes a day, or seven and a half hours a week, of their time to recover from the disruptions emails cause, the research showed. Researchers said that managers experience something similar when they're feeling overwhelmed and unproductive from massive amounts of email, except with greater consequences. As they tackle overflowing inboxes, managers tend to neglect the obligations their subordinates expect them to do, focusing instead on small tasks.
- Management professor Russell Johnson, who led the research, said he advises managers to set aside designated times to check email rather than react to each message as it arrives. The time and effort needed to transition from email-checking back to managing employees is too costly otherwise, he noted.
Employers may want to set clear expectations around how employees use email and other communication platforms. Without those guidelines, employees of every level could lose out on efficiency and productivity for the sake of a clean inbox.
The typical worker has about six minutes of focus until they break their attention to check incoming emails or text messages, a RescueTime study reported in July. Almost 40% of employees check their emails or instant messages every three minutes if they work in an office with an on-demand culture, the same study found.
As much as 44% of managers in a West Monroe Partners study said they feel overwhelmed by the demands on their roles as leaders. Managers in the same study also admitted that they weren't given any training at all. When problems like excessive emails keep managers from being productive, particularly at their subordinates' expense, HR may need to step in and provide some training. In fact, building a culture of learning might be in order to make sure all staff have the skills and knowledge they need to perform their jobs.
Besides setting aside specific times for checking email messages, managers and employees can shut down their email programs when they need to be the most focused and productive. Or they might turn down sounds signaling a message's arrival. Whatever measure workers take to tone down the toll of office communication, employers should be aware that every generation within the workforce communicates differently. For a workplace comprised of as many boomers as millennials, an awareness of generational preference may be beneficial.