The Real Paul Jones

Accept no substitutes

E-mail as a Source and Symbol of Stress; thus #noemail

Paul, · Categories: #noemail

What email means is as important as what it does and doesn’t do. That is one of the points of the #noemail project. There are better ways of communication. Those better ways should assist in relieving stress rather than becoming a cultural and individual symbol of overwork and stress.

This paper just out from researchers at Stanford and Boston University does a fine job of quantifying and explaining what email means. May require library access or subscription for access.

I note with some irony that the email addresses of the authors are included in the abstract and in the paper.

Of course, you can “Email This Article to A Friend” or better to an enemy.

ORGANIZATION SCIENCE
Vol. 22, No. 4, July-August 2011, pp. 887-906
DOI: 10.1287/orsc.1100.0573

E-mail as a Source and Symbol of Stress
Stephen R. Barley, Debra E. Meyerson, Stine Grodal

Department of Management Science and Engineering, School of Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305
School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305
Department of Strategy and Innovation, School of Management, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215
sbarley@stanford.edu
debram@stanford.edu
grodal@bu.edu

The increasing volume of e-mail and other technologically enabled communications are widely regarded as a growing source of stress in people’s lives. Yet research also suggests that new media afford people additional flexibility and control by enabling them to communicate from anywhere at any time. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data, this paper builds theory that unravels this apparent contradiction. As the literature would predict, we found that the more time people spent handling e-mail, the greater was their sense of being overloaded, and the more e-mail they processed, the greater their perceived ability to cope. Contrary to assumptions of prior studies, we found no evidence that time spent working mediates e-mail-related overload. Instead, e-mail’s material properties entwined with social norms and interpretations in a way that led informants to single out e-mail as a cultural symbol of the overload they experience in their lives. Moreover, by serving as a symbol, e-mail distracted people from recognizing other sources of overload in their work lives. Our study deepens our understanding of the impact of communication technologies on people’s lives and helps untangle those technologies’ seemingly contradictory influences.