E-mail vacations can boost productivity, study

May 4th, 2012 - 3:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 4 (IANS) Being cut off from official e-mails not only lowers stress levels but also allows employees to concentrate far better, says a new study.

During the study, researchers attached heart rate monitors to computer users in a suburban office setting. Software sensors detected how often they switched windows.

People who read e-mails changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those who did not read e-mails for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

“We found that when you remove e-mails from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said Gloria Mark, informatics professor at the University of California (Irvine), US, who co-authored the study with Stephen Voida and the US Army’s senior research scientist Armand Cordello.

Participants were computer-dependent civilian employees at the army’s Natick Soldier Systems Centre outside Boston. Those with no e-mails reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions, according to a California statement.

Measurements bore that out, Mark said. People with e-mails switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without, changed screens half as often - about 18 times in an hour.

Mark said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity and suggested that controlling e-mail login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful. “E-mail 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. Volunteers worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between women and men groups.

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