Imagine this – you’re on the way to work and, as you step off the train, your phone pings with an alert for a 2 pm meeting. No worries; but as you take a few more steps, you receive another notification. This time, an instant message from your manager asking you meet at 12 pm to prepare for your 2 pm meeting. This is followed by an email with six documents attached, all labeled “must read”. Before your day has even begun you’ve already been bombarded with an abundance of information, all from different modes of communication. Feeling anxious yet?
The old age problem of limited channels and a narrow flow of information has morphed into a new problem of hyper-communication where people are overloaded with information on a daily basis. Does the abundance of technology make us feel like we should be constantly available for work? Is extra communication just an attempt to control telecommuters and flextime users in the face of this virtualization? Regardless of the reason, communication overload has become a significant contributor to stress in the workplace that causes a severe decline in effectiveness and the annihilation of productivity in employees.
Whether you are hoping to break bad habits or searching for a cure to the toxic practices causing stress in your workplace, these 6 quick solutions may solve some of the overwhelming communication issues that may be plaguing your employees.
Issue 1: Email Overload
No matter the career, it is a guarantee that receiving and replying to emails is a constant in any daily routine. However, as crucial as email may be to the success of the average workday, the incessant incoming messages and email threads eventually take a toll on the mind, emotions, and productivity of employees. The average employee checks his or her email 36 times an hour.
With billions of emails sent every day, it is not a surprise that email occupies 23% of the average employee’s workday. The frustration arises when your inbox is cluttered with emails and the important correspondence gets jumbled in with the “fun” updates, inquiries and invites to company events. Not only do employees eventually begin to feel overwhelmed by redundant or unnecessary emails, but eventually they begin to question if they should even open them at all –an action that can lead to failure to communicate and lowered productivity.
Solution: If the endless stream of emails is slowly driving you insane, consider putting some restrictions in place. Try launching your mail application only when you need information and turning off your application when you know it is time to cut out the distractions. Not only will this relieve the constant need employees may feel to always be available, but the desire to relentlessly check for updates may begin to wane – ultimately relieving the toxic source of stress.
Issue 2: Too Many Meetings
Face-to-face meetings are one of the more effective methods of workplace communication – issues get conveyed clearer and solved faster. Yet, many employees have also felt the exasperation of being stuck in back to back meetings that only take up time and take away focus from other more pressing matters.
Thomas Jackson’s 2001 study of cognitive reorientation costs found that constant interruption increased the time required to do complex chores by as much as 20 percent to 40 percent.
This unhealthy balance, due to lack of time management and prioritization only creates an abundance of stressed workers. Employees that are unable to maintain a stable balance between daily responsibilities and unplanned communications can suffer from fatigue, make more oversights and are more likely to be absent from non-stresses employees.
Solution: Place less emphasis on talking over constant issues and more on finding a resolution. Going forward with a more proactive attitude will leave less room for long meetings and more room for effort and productivity.
Issue 3: After Hour Communication
One of the most alarming causes of over-communication lies, not with the company, but with the mentality and expectations of its employees. Technology has developed to a point that people are often at the beck and call of their communications, creating a culture where people feel they must be constantly available for work. This in itself leads to the issue of not knowing when to disengage.
The employees that develop this mindset grow unhealthy habits and mannerisms that negatively affect their well-being, both physical and emotional. This could very well be an oversight of the company by failing to provide employees with a healthy way to balance, maybe even overloading them with so much work that they feel the strong urge to attack it after hours. Yet, it can also be a manifestation of having employees that are maybe a tad too eager; working extra hours or weekends in an attempt to impress.
Solution: Do not reward your employees for working extra hours at their expense. While being enthusiastic does deserve recognition, your employees should be encouraged to pursue a healthy work-life balance, and that does not involve the guaranteed stress of being always on call.
Issue 4: More Mediums/Fewer Responses
It is almost impossible to tally up the numerous mediums of communication available to us in this day and age. Our old school ways of text and calls have been upgraded and advanced, producing communication devices like smartphones, a million different ways to direct message and chat, social media timelines, Facetime, live video streaming, etc. While these devices have far advanced our ability to speak with our peers at any time over any distance, we must remember that more is not always better.
Employees are becoming overloaded with information and overwhelmed by these multiple channels, so much that workers even admit to deleting information because they don’t feel they have time to read it. The struggle to keep your employees on task can be an uphill battle when you are competing against all the electronic racket. Even worse, imagine the workplace of the future. Workers will be exposed to an even bigger onslaught of communication as the future workplace will be saturated with new technology.
Solution: One word—Condense. Manage your communications wisely. Where do you get the most responses? What apps or products do your employees use most? Find out which modes of communication drive your workplace. After that, focus less on churning out endless content and more on subtly delivering content on a few select mediums.
Issue 5: Forcing Teamwork
Teamwork makes the dream work… right? While teamwork is often the crux of any department and provides support for a number of scenarios, there is such a thing as too much teamwork.
This comes in the dreaded form of the cc and, in recent times, the @. Adding more individuals to an issue is not always the solution. 8 people trying to solve one issue can sometimes be more counterproductive than if you had just stuck with the initial three.
While everyone may have something to contribute, the fact of the matter is that every contribution isn’t necessary. You may risk cluttering your channel with “knowledge” or “help” that has strayed too far away from your goal. This elevated stress weighs down the body and brain eventually causing problems between coworkers and for the company as a whole.
Solution: Stop adding more people to the mix. Define responsibilities and stick within those boundaries. Making individuals responsible for separate and distinct roles ensures that any issue that arises gets handled promptly and only by those people that play a direct hand in the matter.
Issue 6: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
All of us have the potential to become so caught up in work that it interferes with our outside lives. However, some individuals take that a step further; becoming so engrossed in the importance of their work that it becomes their life. Perhaps it’s the desire for recognition, or perhaps it’s just that fear of missing out on anything “important”, but either way, a balance between work life and regular life is necessary to maintain stress-free employees.
Employees that experience work life FOMO are suffering from a mentality bred by habit, so for anything to change in their behavior, you first must work on changing their principles.
Solution: For this kind of employee, the fear of missing out on an important note can be even more stressful that being overloaded with communication. It’s probably time for them to take a small vacation. Let them know that things will be taken care of in their absence. Consider training someone as an assistant or backup to the role, someone they trust to hold things together.
Work should not take precedence over the other parts of life that also need attention. Focus on their rest and relaxation, switch off all communications, and remind them – the earth will keep on spinning, so take a break.
If you’ve come across these issues, tried these solutions, and still manage to feel the weight of overloaded workers then it may be time for a communication detox. Set up time for your employees away from the workplace, maybe even an outside workshop. Encourage your employees to unplug from work, turn off their notifications, and refresh themselves.
It may seem easy to remember to not overwhelm your employees, but it is hard to do so when the first instinct is often to share knowledge and expectations to hopefully raise productivity. Do not let the fear of creating isolated silos dissuade you from placing necessary restrictions on the flow of information. Timing is everything. Whether it be controlling the frequency of communication or controlling the means by which it will reach your staff, it is imperative to the sanity of your employees to not create any unnecessary situations that will cause them stress.
Take the load of constant communication and collaboration off the shoulders of your staff and create a much-needed balance that leaves you with healthy and stable employees that actually get work done.