Many of us have a love-hate relationship with office email. It can be both a convenience and a source of ire. But did you know it can adversely affect your health?
That’s what researchers with the University of California-Irvine and the U.S. Army found in their study that compared email users to non-users.
They attached heart rate monitors to computer users in an office setting while software detected how often they switched windows.
People 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.
High Alert = High Stress
Why is a “high alert” state bad? 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.
By contrast, those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions. Study measurements supported these statements. People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without email changed screens half as often – about 18 times in an hour.
The researchers were quick to say that they’re not suggesting that employees should ditch email altogether. Rather, they say that companies and employees can use these findings to shape email strategies that fit their workplace--like controlling email login times or batching messages—even taking “email vacations” on occasion.
The goal is to give employees large blocks of time with as few interruptions as possible.
Those without email also reported other benefits:
- Having a conversation with someone saved time and was more pleasant than typing an email.
- Being able to get up and walk to someone’s desk to discuss a something provided an opportunity to get some exercise. (A good thing as we know desk jobs are hazardous to your health.)
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University of California Irvine