Pulling the plug on email reduces stress, improves productivity

'We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments'

Reducing—or even outright banning—email can reduce employee stress while boosting productivity, David Burkus writes for Harvard Business Review.

For many workers, the amount of email they have to deal with is astronomical, with email taking up 23% of the average employee's workday.

Thierry Breton, CEO of the France-based firm Atos Origin, noticed that emails seemed to be slowing his employees' productivity. So in 2011, he announced a drastic solution to the problem: No more email within three years.

"We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives," said Breton, who adopted a zero-email philosophy himself before enforcing it at the company.

Atos created a company-wide social network that allowed employees to communicate on their own terms, without the incessant ping of email notifications. Zero email isn't quite a reality at Atos yet, but the company has reduced overall email by 60%, down to 40 emails a week on average from 100. While not directly related, Atos also increased its operating margin and earnings per share and cut down on administrative costs.

Related: Which emails students read—and which ones they ignore

In another experiment, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and the U.S. Army also found that cutting off email had positive effects for civilian office workers. They found that under no-email conditions, participants:

  • Communicated face-to-face and over the phone more frequently;
  • Experienced significantly less stress;
  • Stayed in computer programs longer; and
  • Reported feeling more relaxed, focused, and productive.

Additional studies also suggest that checking email only a certain number of times per day or at particular times can be beneficial to employees (Burkus, Harvard Business Review, 6/8).

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