Work-related email communication and its relationship to stress

The past 10 to 15 years are characterized by an increased use of different types of mobile devices that allow the user to be online constantly and to have access to his/ her email account and other communication tools available online. Dabbish and Kraut (2006) regarded email communication as ‘the most successful and widely used form of computer-mediated communication’(p. 431) but researches often emphasized the negative relationship between work-related email use and stress (Barley, Meyerson, & Grodal, 2011; Dabbish & Kraut, 2006; Mark, Iqbal, Czerwinski, Johns, & Sano, 2016). Barley, Meyerson, and Grodal (2011) summarized that the relationship between email overload and stress is discussed from two different points of view—the work life literature and the literature related to communication technologies overload. Both perspectives imply that increased experience of stress based on email overload is because of an overall increase in working hours—handling communication issues extends the amount of work to be done because it represents an additional task that needs to be executed—but propose different mechanisms of how this happens. Studies in the work-life literature state that email communication leads to work overload because the constant access to email allows an employee to work during non-office hours and hinders his/her ability to disengage from work. Studies related to communication technologies state that these technologies in general and email in particular contribute to the sense of being overloaded because they extend the amount of work employees should do on their own. In the past communication activities were handled by secretaries and assistants—now everyone has to take care of his/her email messages and telephone conversations alone. Empirical studies investigated the relationship of email communication overload and strategies of email management with stress, productivity and task coordination (Barley et al., 2011; Dabbish & Kraut, 2006; Mark et al., 2016). The time spent on handling emails was positively related to the perceived sense of being overloaded (Barley et al., 2011) meaning that an increase in the time spent on doing emails should lead to an increase of employee’s experience of overload. Interestingly, this effect was found only by employees who were engaged extensively with other types of communication (e.g. phone calls, meetings, etc.). Similar results were found by Mark, Iqbal, Czerwinski, Johns, and Sano (2016) who reported that the increase of time spent on email on a daily basis led to increase of employees’ stress level and to decrease in their performance. However, longer time spent on emails affected performance positively by employees who checked emails on self-interruptions (as opposed to external notifications) and clustered email use 2-3 times a day (as opposed to constant use) suggesting that successful email managing strategies might help to diminish email related stress. Further, email volume is also positively associated with overload moderated by job characteristics and email managing strategies (Dabbish & Kraut, 2006). Feelings of overload reduced by employees who experienced autonomy in their work, kept the number of emails in the inbox and the number of folders in their email account small. Additionally, greater overload was associated with decreased task coordination. It’s impossible to imagine the 21st century without the Internet and without all kinds of online accessible social and communication media. Their use will probably continue to rise during the following years. And because refusing to use email and other communication technologies in work and personal life is not an option, organizations 11 Introduction to survey of Swedish lawyers – 2017 and employees are expected to put an effort in minimizing email and communication related stress and overload while applying appropriate stress managing techniques.