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Workers say e-mail can get stressful

July 18, 2001

Most people can manage up to 25 e-mails a day, but those swamped by more than 50 messages a day "believe e-mail is out of control in the workplace," says Christina Cavanagh, a professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business.

The content of some e-mails is also an aggravation — executives particularly dislike being bombarded with chain letters or self-serving, "cover-your-behind" messages from fellow employees, Prof. Cavanagh found during interviews with 76 corporate executives and managers from six different industry groups.

These are the "cc" e-mails, where the sender has circulated too many copies of every message, perhaps in an attempt to impress others with how busy he or she is, Prof. Cavanagh said in an interview Tuesday.

Recipients prefer to get e-mails on a "need-to-know" basis.

A summary of the survey results, to be released Wednesday by the University of Western Ontario, found that those who receive more than 50 e-mails a day are hard pressed to answer them in a timely fashion, which increases their stress levels.

Prof. Cavanagh said one survey respondent told her that e-mail "creates a false sense of urgency."

The senior business people who participated in her poll reported that the volume of e-mail is steadily increasing, while interoffice phone messages and fax messages are decreasing.

While no-one disputes e-mail's convenience, managers are now raising alarms about its overload and grappling for ways to bring it under control.

"E-mail is out of balance ... creating much more stress on the recipient than on the sender of the message," Prof. Cavanagh said.

By VIRGINIA GALT From Wednesday's Globe and Mail, Copyright © 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.


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