I browse through several online newspapers each morning, and the headline, Taking A Break From Work E-mail Could Help Curb Stress: Study, caught my eye. According to a new study from UC Irvine and the U.S. Army, taking a break from work email can lower stress and improve focus.
“We found that when you remove e-mail from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said study researcher Gloria Mark, an informatics professor at UC Irvine.
I just heard the collective groan from all of my colleagues who are regularly sending emails and texts to each other after hours—and the cheers from my wife who regularly asks me what is so important every time I glance at my iPhone when it “buzzes” at me.
The researchers attached heart rate monitors to people working at the computer in an office setting and measured their heart rate variability—a signal of low stress (a constant heart rate is linked to higher levels of stress).
“The researchers found that when provided access to checking email, the study participants were constantly on ‘high alert’—with more constant heart rates—and changed screens 37 times an hour, on average.”
The study also showed when cut off from their email for five days, their heart rates became more variable—thus under less stress. They also changed screens about half as many times an hour.
Here’s another question for you. Do you ever “think” your smartphone has buzzed to let you know you have an email when it hasn’t? My wife laughs at me every time that happens to me. The study also found that this is not uncommon and calls it “phantom alerts”.
I’m not sure how much work we’d be able to get done without email. Email is integral to what I’m doing on a daily basis. It’s become a critical component to the way most people communicate and collaborate with each other.
Although email may be here to stay, constantly being “on” isn’t good for anyone’s health. Finding the right balance is an individual thing, but I will probably continue to check my email and my wife will continue to roll her eyes at me. Maybe if I leave it alone while we’re conversing at the restaurant I’ll be able to reduce stress at two levels.