‘Email overload’ risks ‘emotional exhaustion’ for academics

University of Bedfordshire researcher reveals the damaging consequences of never being able to ‘switch off’

January 8, 2016
Source: iStock
Academics dealing with constant emails may pay the price in stress and family conflict

A culture of being “always available” can have a devastating impact on the stress levels, work-life balance and job performance of those working within universities.

That was the central contention of Gail Kinman, professor of occupational health psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, when she addressed a symposium there on 8 January titled “Switching on and Switching off”: Building E-resilience for Work-life balance and Wellbeing.

Drawing on research conducted via an online survey and interviews with academics across the UK, she analysed their workload demands, schedule flexibility and email management. Many were highly engaged in their jobs, she argued, and used the flexibility granted them to work longer and harder, rather than to improve their work-life balance.

“A considerable proportion of academics saw their personal and work time as inextricably linked,” explained Professor Kinman, so “emails were read and replied to anywhere and any time”.

Yet this often led to “rumination about work problems” outside office hours, with “serious implications for wellbeing and job performance”. There was also “increasing evidence that email overload and lack of respite from ICT [information and communications technology] can lead to emotional exhaustion and cognitive failures”.

In response to these dangers, some of the academics interviewed by Professor Kinman admitted to making “contracts” with their families about when they could and could not access emails. Yet many still indulged in “masking” behaviour, where emails were read in secret, often leading to feelings of guilt and family conflict.

In conclusion, Professor Kinman emphasised “the need for academics to develop e-resilience”, noting that there was evidence that “limiting access to email can reduce stress”.


You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Home secretary says government will support 'best' universities

Man handing microphone to audience member

Academic attainment of disadvantaged students can be improved if they can decide how they are assessed, study claims

Woman drinking tea from saucer

Plugging a multibillion-pound deficit exacerbated by June’s poll result may require ‘drastic measures’, analysts have warned

Italy's gold medallist

New measures to ensure universities are ‘not penalised’ for taking poorer students also outlined for next stage of TEF

Classroom, school

Higher education institutions can and should do more to influence education at a secondary school level, says Edward Peck