Published May 07, 2012
While some might think a trip to the beaches of California or Florida is necessary to unwind, new research shows all that's really needed is a vacation from email.
"We found that when you remove email from workers' lives, they multitask less and experience less stress," said Gloria Mark, a UCI informatics professor and co-author of the study.
In conducting the study, researchers attached heart rate monitors to workers in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows on their computer screen. The research showed that people who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady "high alert" state, with more constant heart rates, while those disconnected from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.
Those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions, according to the study.
Mark said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity; she suggests businesses consider controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies.
"Email vacations on the job may be a good idea," she said. "We need to experiment with that."
The only reported downside to being disconnected from email was somewhat of a feeling of isolation, the study found. Employees not tuned in to their inboxes, though, were able to garner critical information from colleagues who were logged on.
The study, "A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons," was also co-authored by UCI assistant project scientist Stephen Voida and Army senior research scientist Armand Cardello, and will be presented May 7 at the Association for Computing Machinery's Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas.
Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.
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