Information overload was already a serious problem before the pandemic. It’s gotten much worse for employees since COVID-19 sent much of the world into physical isolation and accelerated trends toward permanent remote work and the hybrid work model. Now’s a good time for employers to revisit the benefits of helping employees better manage their communication habits to reduce the negative impacts of being constantly pinged by email, Microsoft Teams, Slack, social media, and more.
As early as 2015, Harvard Business Review spoke to the consequences of “digital distraction” concluding that “digital overload may be the defining problem of today’s workplace. We waste time, attention, and energy on relatively unimportant information and interactions by staying busy but producing little of value.”
COVID-19 significantly worsened the situation. Not only were people suddenly forced to work from home and wear masks, but the global world of work was stressed by a level of uncertainty and fear that you could almost feel in the air. As a result, the pandemic unleashed what the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health called, “a relentless flood of information … False news, conspiracy theories, and magical cures were shared with the general public at an alarming rate, which may lead to increased anxiety and stress levels and associated debilitating consequences.”
That study even gave this flood of information a name: COVIO (COVID-19 Information Overload).
“Information overload can lead people to feel powerless, experience anxiety, fatigue, and paralysis of action, all of which are unhelpful anytime but indeed dangerous in a time of the pandemic,” according to research included in a spring 2020 report. “In response, people seek simple but mostly unhelpful information to focus on and, in some cases, avoid information totally.”
And it’s not just a matter of a ping here or a note there. Every communication we receive — whether on Gmail, Slack, Teams, or wherever — requires some kind of corresponding action, even if it’s simply to absorb the subject and delete the item. So, in addition to the cognitive disruption of context switching that an email causes, it’s also a request for action.
Here are seven ways you can help employees reduce information-related stress:
- Reassess your wellness communications to make sure they’re up to date and relevant to your entire workforce and address the potential for information overload within your organization.
- Enlist (or reenlist!) your managers as wellness evangelists (including helping managers put boundaries on how many emails and communications they send and when they send them).
- Remind employees to take advantage of relaxation and mindfulness apps and tools that are part of your workplace wellness solution.
- Promote apps and tools that can lower the level of stress at work, including getting outside to exercise year-round.
- Encourage a culture that values turning off work at the end of the day and promotes proper amounts of sleep.
- Be sure your wellness solution has strategies that support the different needs of the multigenerational workforce — different generations have different health and wellbeing concerns.
- Make sure your wellness and stress-reducing initiatives reach all of your employees — remote and in the office, hourly and salaried.