Can email demands affect leadership skills at work?
The ways you can communicate at work have changed over the past 30 years, with email now the most predominant way of communicating. But when emails keep filling up your inbox, demanding your attention constantly, you are more likely to feel overloaded and stressed. New research explains how managers, bosses and leaders are impacted by the high demands of emails flooding into their inbox and how this affects their productivity and leadership skills.
Researchers from Michigan State University collected surveys from 48 managers twice a day for two weeks. Managers reported on the frequency and demands of emails, their perceived progress on core job duties, how often they engaged in effective transformational “leader behaviours” and initiating “structure leader behaviours”.
On the days that managers felt pressured by high email demands, the study found that managers reported lower perceived work progress and engaged in fewer effective leader behaviours.
The researchers found that when email demands were high, managers scaled back “leader behaviours” more so than initiating “structure behaviours”. Leader behaviours relate to motivating and inspiring subordinates while structure behaviours are more concrete and task-focused, such as setting work goals, assigning duties or providing feedback. On the days that managers felt pressured by high email demands, the study found that managers reported lower perceived work progress and engaged in fewer effective leader behaviours. To feel productive, managers focussed on smaller tasks and neglected manager-related responsibilities.
According to the research, employees spend more than 90 minutes a day — seven and a half hours per week — recovering from email interruption. Managers are also impacted by email overload but their distractions have further implications. Email disruptions cause managers to neglect “leader behaviours” and “structure behaviours”, and fail to inspire and motivate their subordinates. When this happens, it negatively impacts employees’ task performance, work satisfaction, organisational commitment, intrinsic motivation and engagement, while increasing stress and negative emotions.
Email distractions have a huge impact on leaders and their leadership skills, and subsequently on employee performance. Researchers suggest that managers set up a specific time to check emails, rather than react to every email as it comes in. It takes time and effort to transition from emails to work tasks, so checking your inbox less often will make this transition easier.
Source: Journal of Applied Psychology
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