The 7 deadly sins of email revealed

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By Teddington People | Thursday, January 23, 2014, 10:55

Workers obsessed with checking their emails could be damaging their own mental health as well as those around them according to the latest research from Kingston University.

Occupational psychologist Dr Emma Russell, who led the study, believes she has identified seven deadly email habits that can lead to 'negative repercussions' if not handled correctly. In fact her study found that some participants became so consumed by email that they even reported experiencing so-called ‘phantom alerts’ where they thought their phone had vibrated or bleeped with an incoming email when in fact it had not. Others said they felt they needed to physically hold their smartphone when they were not at their desk so that they were in constant email contact.

Find out what the 7 deadly email sins are below.

1. Ping pong - constant emails back and forth creating long chains

Email ping pong, where messages are responded to immediately by both sides until a very long chain builds up, was top among the email pet hates that stressed respondents out.

2. Emailing out of hours

Responding to out of hours emails may make employees look keen but it can also mean workers find it difficult to switch off, according to the study.

Dr Russell said: “This habit puts pressure on staff to be permanently on call and makes those they are dealing with feel they need to respond."

3. Emailing while in company

People find this irritating because of the phenomenon known as ‘Absent Presence’, according to Dr Russell. "With the advent of smart phones, a tendency has emerged for the user to attend to an incoming email even when physically with someone else. This renders us physically engaged but mentally absent and deprives our companion of the time they were having with us. It also informs them that our email has taken precedence over their presence," she said.

4. Ignoring emails completely

Frustrating for the email sender, this is a tactic people use when they are overloaded and cannot handle the volume of emails in their inbox. They ‘resolve’ the problem with a variety of tactics: ignoring everything for a period of time; ignoring certain people; and in extreme cases, deleting their entire inbox!

5. Requesting read receipts

According to the study, read receipts accompanying every message sent make it difficult for workers to switch off during down time and were particularly disliked by many of those involved as it made them feel as if they were being monitored.

6. Responding immediately to an email alert

Dr Russell says this is a product of new technologies such as broadband and 3G smartphones. So far we haven't adapted: "Back in the dial-up era, when going online had a cost implication, most people checked email maybe once a day and often responded to mails as soon as they read them. Now with broadband and 3G, unlimited numbers of messages can be streamed to you via your smartphone at any time of the day or night. However many of us haven’t adapted our behaviour to what can seem like a constant stream of mails.”

7. Automated replies

This final habit includes using flags to direct incoming emails into a specific file. Examples would be flagging round robins automatically as junk, or certain words in an email triggering its deposit in a designated folder, like "Holiday", "Accounts" or "Social".

Both the email sender and recipient have complaints about this system. Senders are unhappy because their emails go astray and are consequently overlooked. Recipients become annoyed because the system goes wrong, with trigger words.

Dr Russell analysed 28 email users across different companies to see which habits had positive and negative influences on their working lives.

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