Study: Checking Email Less Often Leads To More Productive Workday, Especially For Managers

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Here’s one way to enjoy a more productive, less stressful day in the office: check your email less frequently.

Researchers from Michigan State University say that keeping up with email throughout the day places high — and sometimes downright impossible — demands on managers that prevents them from achieving their personal goals and from being good leaders for their teams.

According to the study, office workers of all seniority levels spend more than 90 minutes a day just recovering from email interruptions and returning to their normal workload. For managers, these distractions caused by email have wider-reaching consequences.

“Like most tools, email is useful but it can become disruptive and even damaging if used excessively or inappropriately,” explains MSU management professor Russell Johnson, lead researcher for the study, in a release. “When managers are the ones trying to recover from email interruptions, they fail to meet their goals, they neglect manager-responsibilities and their subordinates don’t have the leadership behavior they need to thrive.”

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Johnson and his team found that managers recover from these frequent disruptions by limiting their leadership duties, such as long-term growth and development of the team, and turning instead to more day-to-day tactical decisions and tasks. This recovery decision is both a strategic one and a way for them to feel more productive.

For the study, researchers surveyed a group of 48 managers twice a day for two weeks. The managers reported the frequency and demands of their emails, their perception of their progress on core job duties, and how often they helped their team by engaging in effective transformational leader behaviors and structure leader behaviors.

“We found that on days when managers reported high email demands, they report lower perceived work progress as a result, and in turn engage in fewer effective leader behaviors,” says Johnson.

And of course, when managers aren’t leading, their workers and their workers’ productivity suffer as well.

Thinking twice about clicking on that email notification now? Well done.

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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