How long email chains are damaging productivity and performance - study

Jul 13, 2022

Attempting to resolve complicated issues via email can leave us feeling frustrated and exhausted. A new study, however, has revealed that reliance on email can be even more damaging to productivity than previously thought. Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, one of South Africa’s largest workplace design consultancies said: “Lengthy email exchanges not only sap workers of motivation but can also cause cognitive deficits which damage and slow our performance at work.”

Trim refers to a new report published on Science Direct by university academics Gajendran, Loewenstein, Choi, and Ozgen, which suggests that compared with face-to-face conversation, email not only makes resolution more difficult but can also worsen one’s performance on subsequent tasks. “There are hidden costs of text-based electronic communication on complex reasoning tasks: motivation maintenance and impaired abilities,” Trim noted.

“The popularity of remote work and a norm of constant connectivity have made text-based communications such as email inevitable for many organisational tasks.

“But employees must carefully weigh the costs of using text-based communication for tasks with the costs of meeting in person.

“Long back-and-forth emails only lead to less motivation, but you also suffer cognitive deficits. We have all endured the exhausting process of slipping into an endless exchange of essay-length emails.” To measure the toll endless emails might be taking on his own efficiency, the researchers devised four experiments in which hundreds of paired subjects were divided into two groups. In each experiment, the first group was asked to perform a complicated task in a face-to-face encounter. The second group was asked to perform an identical task using Gmail.