Psychologists warn constant email notifications are 'toxic source of stress'
A culture has developed where people must feel they are constantly available for work, study reveals.
By Lucy Clarke-Billings
2:35PM GMT 02 Jan 2016 www.telegraph.co.uk
The secret to happiness is to ignore an endless stream of emails by turning off your app, according to psychologists who warn constant updates are a "toxic source of stress".
Due to technology enabling people to be at their email’s constant beck and call, a culture has developed where people must feel they are constantly available for work, according to research.
As a result, an “unwritten organisational etiquette” has become ingrained in the workplace and employees have developed habits which negatively impact on their emotional well-being.
Studies have found that continuously checking and reading emails due to a ‘push notification’ feature which alerts users to new messages even when they are not in their Mail app, prompts signs of tension and worry.
And experts have recommended that switching off the ‘Mail’ app on your mobile phone will alleviate anxiety both in and out of the office.
A report from the London-based Future Work Centre, which conducts psychological research on people's workplace experiences, said emails were a "double-edged sword" that provided a useful means of communication but could also be a source of stress.
"Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it's clear that it's a source of stress of frustration for many of us,"
Dr Richard MacKinnon
Urging users to seize control of their email instead of being ruled by it, the authors said: "You may want to consider launching your email application when you want to use email and closing it down for periods when you don't wish to be interrupted by incoming emails.
"In other words, use email when you intend to, not just because it's always running in the background."
The team surveyed almost 2,000 working people across a range of industries and occupations in the UK about the pros and cons of using email.
File phoot: higher email pressure was associated with more examples of work having a negative effect on home life, and home life having a negative impact on performance at work Photo: Alamy
They found that two of the most stressful habits were leaving email on all day and checking emails early in the morning and late at night.
There was a "strong relationship" between use of the "push" feature that automatically updates emails on devices as soon as they arrive and perceived email pressure.
Higher email pressure was associated with more examples of work having a negative effect on home life, and home life having a negative impact on performance at work.
Lead author Dr Richard MacKinnon said: "Our research shows that email is a double-edged sword. Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it's clear that it's a source of stress of frustration for many of us.
"The people who reported it being most useful to them also reported the highest levels of email pressure. But the habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages and the unwritten organisational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and wellbeing."
Email pressure was highest among younger people and steadily decreased with age, according to the findings presented at the British Psychological Society's Division of Occupational Psychology annual meeting in Nottingham.
Those working in IT, marketing, public relations, the internet and media were most affected by email stress.
More than 30 per cent of this group received more than 50 emails a day and more than 65 per cent allowed their devices to update emails round the clock.
Experts in digital distraction and productivity have suggested managing the stresses of constant email communication by limiting how often the app is checked, setting Out Of Office replies more frequently and resigning to the fact that, if a matter is urgent, employers will attempt to make contact with a phone call.
In 2014, an estimated 196.3 billion emails were sent around the world, according to the report.
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