Myth busting: managing email at work

A psychologist from Kingston Business School has reviewed 42 academic and practitioner research papers and has bust three popular myths about email use:

* Email stops us from fostering high-quality work relationships. The reality is that email only reflects and potentially accentuates existing cultures of trust.

* We should limit ourselves to checking email a few times a day. In fact, we need to check and process email regularly in order to prioritise and control our work effectively.

* Email is a time wasting distraction from real work. Actually only a tiny proportion of email sent and received at work is non-work critical.

Dr Emma Russell will present her research today, Wednesday 10 January, at the British Psychological Society's Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in Stratford-upon-Avon.

This Acas-funded research was carried out in two phases. The first was a review of 42 academic and practitioner research papers about email use. In phase two interviews with 12 working adults were held to validate and illustrate themes that arose from phase one. The aim was to identify work email strategies that have positive and negative repercussions for productivity and wellbeing.

The recommendations also include the top 10 learning points for improving email strategy for individuals and for organisations. These were:

For individuals

* Process and clear email whenever it is checked

* Switch off email alerts

* Use 'delay send' function when sending email out-of-hours

* Review personal email strategies
For organisations

* Develop 'email etiquette' guidance

* Remove response time recommendations for dealing with work email

* Support workers during periods of high workload

* Provide extra email time for high volume workers

* Provide email training

* Consider using other communication tools

Dr Russell said: "This is the first piece of research to comprehensively and systematically review studies of how working adults use their work email. As such, we are now able to provide an evidence-based set of learning points for organisations and end-users that we hope will help people to improve their use of work email."

The research is Acas' current featured research paper. They have also produced two one-page documents, Email at work - adaptation and development and Email at work - impact on culture.

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