Checking Email Less Lowers Stress

Julie Shenkman
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Constantly viewing emails while at work may be a sign of a good administrative assistant. It shows due diligence, dedication to the job and an ability to discriminate between junk email versus important correspondence. However, a new study suggests checking email all the time may increase stress levels.

Business News Daily reports the study, conducted by the University of British Columbia, found that participants who were checking email three times per day experienced "significantly lower" daily stress levels than those who checked electronic correspondence constantly. The study included 124 participants over a range of industries including academia, health care, finance, administration and information technology. Undergraduate and graduate students also participated in the research.

Paradoxically, most study participants found it difficult to stay out of their inbox for most of the day, even though resisting the temptation to check emails caused less stress. Plus, many companies with fast-paced offices and many staff members may find it impossible to limit checking email to just three times per day. Some correspondence may be more urgent than others in high-powered offices.

The methodology of the study instructed some of the participants to limit checking email to three times per day for a week. Others checked emails as often as they wanted, usually the normal amount each person does during a daily routine. The following week, instructions for the two groups were reversed. Participants answered brief daily surveys regarding stress and moods. Two-thirds of the study's participants were graduate and undergraduate students.

In a professional setting, the study's lead author suggests businesses find a way to let employees check email in chunks rather than have them constantly respond to messages. For a three-times-a-day limit, that means once in the morning, one check around noon and then right before leaving work. Checking email just three times a day may be impractical for some administrative assistants who rely on quick, short electronic correspondence for vital intraoffice communication. Sometimes bosses need a quick email combined with face-to-face verbal interaction to get an overall picture of what's going on within an office setting. This face time, combined with constant email communication, may be a vital component of making money for the company.

Companies must find a way to balance stress reduction with constant communication. This is a global economy, yet firms need to keep office staff happier by reducing stress. Businesses can find other ways to reduce an administrative assistant's stress that has nothing to do with emails. Give the person one day off per month. Buy the assistant a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant or day spa. Relax the dress code for one day that is not a Friday.

Reducing stress at work, without lowering professionalism or dropping profit margins, should be an ideal goal for every business. Unfortunately, checking email is a daily activity that no one can escape in today's global, digital economy. Finding the right balance and discovering one that works for the business, can be an achievable goal by simply asking a few questions and then listening to stressed-out employees.


Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at



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