06/05/2014

By Andrew Christodoulou, author for Wolters Kluwer’s Croner-i Human Resources online product

The pace of technological change in recent years has meant that we are now able to pick up emails anytime, anywhere. Loughborough University researchers, led by Professor Tom Jackson recently explored the physiological and psychological impact of email on employees at a UK government agency. The findings showed a link between email and stress and indicated that employees were more prone to stress when reading and sending emails.

The law
The law on work-related stress is well known and there is no reason why it should not apply to the stress emanating from dealing with emails.

The Health & Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees while they are at work and this implicitly includes consideration of stress-related to emails and other new technology.

The management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to perform risk assessments for work activities and again this should include email stress.
The Health & Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 set a standard for display screen equipment and see stress as a major issue and deal with it by way of requirements stipulating rest breaks, training and the design of the work station.

What do employers need to do?

All employers need to examine the range and scope of their employees’ exposure to email and incorporate the findings into risk assessments and policies relating to electronic communication and the use of display screen equipment. They should also consider the possible exposure of staff to emails out of normal working hours.

The steps employers could take to reduce the stress from email may include:

• Training for staff on how to better manage their communication data
• Reducing and controlling the number of emails received and sent by avoiding unnecessary and superfluous emails
• Controlling spam by training staff on the use of filter settings on their electronic devices
• Controlling use of aggressive and inflammatory emails
• Better diary control
• Realistic timescales for email response and other actions
• Limiting the time spent on checking emails
• Controlling the use of portable devices such as mobile phones and tablets
• Controlling and limiting the amount of “private” time spent on checking emails.

What can employees do?

Employees themselves can manage stress from emails by:
• Turning off devices for a short period of time each day
• Setting limits e.g. not checking emails after 19:00
• Accepting the fact that they cannot respond to 500 emails a day
• Learn to moderate their activity
• Trying to separate home life from work life during working hours and vice versa.

Controlling email stress could be beneficial to any organisation, through more efficient and effective email communication, less time lost due to ill health and reduce the possibility of civil claims.

Stress can lead to long-term chronic health conditions such as hypertension, thyroid disease, heart failure and coronary artery disease, so it is important that it is addressed.

We are living in a time of rapid change and there are likely to be more advances in email communication. It is down to employers and employees to make sure the stress that may come with it is properly managed.