If you brought in experts to figure out what was stressing out your employees, what would they find?
A northern Italian home textiles company, Gabel, did just that recently. The interviews with employees uncovered an answer that will surprise almost no one. The sheer volume of email employees were facing was one of the top complaints.
But while the email overload Gabel was facing wasn't much of a shocker, the company's response definitely surprised many. The firm decided to ban all internal email for an entire week in November, the BBC reports.
Managing director Emilio Colombo declared an "email-free" week in November, sending staff (ironically) an email that read: "We invite you not to use email for internal communications (between colleagues at the same location), in favor of a more direct and immediate contact."
So how did it go? Rather well, according to the BBC. Although company president Michele Moltrasio conceded that communicating without email took some getting used to, he said that staffers "are rediscovering the pleasure of meeting and talking rather than writing. Even if from next week we all go back to using email, these days of experimentation are very worthwhile, to understand and rethink the methods and pace of working."
The science of the email vacation
Cutting out all internal email might sound radical to some, but science is actually on the side of the idea. Studies have confirmed that receiving repeated emails throughout the day increases physical signs of stress in the body. Irrelevant emails, or those that break your concentration, are particularly harmful, and all that stress can take a serious toll on your health.
But reducing employees' stress isn't the only reason that Gabel might be on to something. As New York Magazine's Science of Us column has pointed out, research also shows that frequent emailing doesn't equal higher productivity. Quite the opposite, in fact.
And finally, research also endorses the idea that even a short break from email can yield big benefits. When a team of scientists from the University of California-Irvine and the U.S. Army forced a group of office workers to switch off email for just five days, they found that not only were heart rates lower among study participants, but also they were happier.
"Participants loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was OK. In general, they were much happier to interact in person," said Gloria Mark, the UCI informatics professor who led the study. "Most discovered just how unnecessary email was," she added.
Taken together, all these findings suggest that Gabel's idea might not be as crazy as it initially sounds. Not only is a week off from internal email almost guaranteed to be a nice one-off stress reliever, science also agrees with Moltrasio that it's a great way to experiment with more pleasant and effective forms of communication between team members.
Would you consider trying an email-free week at your company?