Effects of Email Utilization on Higher Education Professionals

Effects of Email Utilization on Higher Education Professionals

Nancy M. Chase, Becky Clegg
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/jthi.2011100103
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This exploratory study examines the impact of email as a primary communication technology upon the perceptions and work behaviors of higher education professionals who support university administrative functions. Based on the interviews and observations of 23 participants, key themes emerged regarding the relationship of email to the interactions of higher education professionals. Findings are presented in three sections: (1) impact on productivity, (2) impact on social interactions, and (3) impact on well-being. The professionals who participated in this study articulated the importance of face-to-face interaction particularly in complex situations; they recognize the need to manage email sender expectations to deal with their own work stresses, and strive to temper the negative impact of constant disruption by email on workplace productivity.
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Literature Review

Research conducted over the past 10 years focused on the overwhelming nature of electronic mail communication citing stress in the workplace, negative social behaviors, and diminished productivity among knowledge workers (Burgess, Jackson, & Edwards, 2003; Ducheneaut & Watts, 2005; Jackson, Dawson, & Wilson, 2002; Neustaedter, Bernheim Brush, Smith, & Fisher, 2005; Whittaker & Sidner, 1996). Smith (2008) reported that the average employee spends between 90 minutes and two hours per day reading email messages. As the email inbox becomes cluttered with retained emails, incoming messages, irrelevant chain mail, and spam, workers may become victims of email overload or, at a minimum, face increasing frustration attempting to manage electronic communication in a disciplined fashion (Betts & Ouellette, 1995; Jackson, Dawson, & Wilson, 2003b).

Multiple studies relating to email overload have emerged from the U.K. (Burgess, Jackson, & Edwards, 2005; Jackson, Dawson, & Wilson, 2003a), but this topic has not generated much interest elsewhere until recently. Researchers report that the average corporate email user sends and receives approximately 156 messages per day, “and this number is expected to grow to about 233 messages a day by 2012” (Radicati Group, Inc., 2008, p. 4). One result of the explosive growth in email volume is that organizations increasingly face key decisions on how to address the monster of email (Dudman, 2003). At Loughborough University in England, Jackson conducted a series of research projects (Jackson et al., 2002; 2003a, 2003b; Jackson, Burgess, & Edwards, 2006) examining email tolerance levels, cost of email to organizations, and reduction of email defects through training of workers. Challenges identified in the studies included: poorly written email, email as a distraction, email used improperly (i.e., when face-to-face was warranted), and email carbon copy abuse. Jackson et al. (2003a) found that 65% of emails sent to recipients failed to provide enough information for the receiver to respond appropriately. Similarly, email messages may not provide the reader with enough information to accurately determine the context or tone (Whitaker, Bellotti, & Gwizdka, 2006). Consequently, the recipient faces additional pressure and frustration attempting to reach a satisfactory resolution to the communication (Burgess, Jackson, & Edwards, 2004).

Eppler and Mengis (2004) reported a variety of email stress symptoms that contribute to feelings of overload: confusion, pressure, fatigue, lack of motivation, and stress. Additionally, frustration with email technology may result in wasted time seeking lost email and delays in the completion of work tasks (Lazar, Jones, & Shneiderman, 2006; Leavitt, 2008). Several studies concluded that email not only distracts workers, but also causes them to interrupt their planned activity to respond to the incoming message before resuming work (Burgess et al., 2004; Charman-Anderson, 2008; Jackson et al., 2002, 2003a, 2003b; Renaud, Ramsay, & Hair, 2006). “Email clearly has the potential to be disruptive. The majority [of study participants], kept e-mail running in the background at work; indeed, 55% also kept e-mail running in the background at home” (Renaud et al., 2006, p. 324).

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