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Email Vacations on the Job Reduce Stress

Update Date: May 06, 2012 06:35 PM EDT
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Being cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus far better, according to a new study by UC Irvine and U.S. Army researchers.

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark.

In the study, heart rate monitors were attached to computer users in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows.

Participants were computer-dependent civilian employees at the Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston. Study subjects worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between women and men.  

Subjects who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady "high alert" state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

Those with no email reported feeling better, being able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.

"People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without changed screens half as often – about 18 times in an hour." Mark said.

She said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity and suggested that controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful. “Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” she noted. “We need to experiment with that.”

Getting up and walking to someone’s desk offered physical relief too, she said.

Other research has shown that people with steady “high alert” heart rates have more cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Stress on the job, in turn, has been linked to a variety of health problems.

The only downside to the experience was that the individuals without email reported feeling somewhat isolated. But they were able to garner critical information from colleagues who did have email.

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