Communication overload at work: How to deal with it
Ιn today’s hi-tech world, a wide range of apps, platforms, and software has been created. The goal is to get messages across in a much more accelerated way. Emails, texts, calls, and calendar notifications are just some of the forms of messaging that employees have to accept, monitor, and filter while working on projects. Just to get a glimpse of the enormity of the communication overload, 306.4 billion emails are being sent and received worldwide in 2020, according to statista. So, the overabundance of incoming business communication can overwhelm employees. It can also create issues in how they accumulate information and collaborate with others. Being overloaded at work is not beneficial to anyone. Professionals should learn how to manage the way they communicate with colleagues, managers, and clients. All for the sake of resolving the problem of communication overload.
In this article, we will discuss the state of communication overload and some tips that can help professionals cope with the ongoing influx of information.
The case of communication overload
Immense amounts of information are imperative so that professionals can work effectively. However, this excessive inflow is not easy to handle. As you can imagine, not all incoming messages are of the same importance or same urgency. Adding to this informational havoc, the dimension of time enters the room. Thus, employees have to receive, read, evaluate, and act upon their communication with their teammates and managers in a specific timeframe. This process is time-consuming and stressful since it is just a foundational part of the work that they need to be doing.
A research conducted by Joseph Ruff at Harvard University showed that 25% of employees are considerably stressed because of the plethora of information they have to deal with. Moreover, RescueTime indicates that the average employee uses chats and emails every 6 minutes. This means that in a workday of 8 hours, that employee will deal with correspondence at least 80 times a day. Thus, communication overload, paired with multitasking increases anxiety, helplessness, and causes cognitive issues. Employees who have to deal with vast amounts of information may forget essential tasks, lose sight of critical messages, or even miss deadlines and team meetings.
Anxiety and productivity decrease
The constant messaging and the habit of having chats and email tabs open at all times can impact the ability to focus on a task and be able to finish it undisturbed. This way, the lack of concentration leads to loss of productivity. In turn, this brings about unsuccessful deliverables and failed collaborations. Of course, the above problems will not necessarily affect every employee all the time. Some may break under the pressure of their situation. Others will gather their mental strength and work as they should. Still, all of them will feel overloaded at work, now and then. Communication overload works accumulatively, so burnout signs will more likely take some time to appear.
When employees feel pressured and incapable of handling the communication, this can also be translated into problematic professional relations. When emails and texts are storming, it stands to reason that messaging with multiple colleagues may lead to misapprehension, tension due to frustration, or even total communication breakdown. Teams plagued by anxiety and demanding workload are not able to function without issues. Especially if higher management enforces and reinforces this atmosphere, employees may have to find ways to process and act upon the information they receive in the best way possible. Yet, this is not the right way to approach communication and teamwork.
Helping tips to deal with communication overload
In this section, the advice is addressed to managers and employees altogether. Following these tips, managers will help their teams build communication bridges and avoid suffering from communication overload.
Do not sink in a pool of communication tools
The faces of company communication are many. From emails, video conferencing, and newsletters to private messaging, chat groups, and project management tools, we can find different ways that information is distributed throughout a company.
However, the issue with the above description is not the multitude of channels but the strategy by which companies structure their communication. Since each channel has a different purpose, employees should prioritize them (or not) depending on their importance. For example, news and announcements concerning the totality of the workforce should be centralized somewhere. Hence, they can be accessible by everyone. This managerial decision will save employees from learning about things through emails or chat messages by colleagues. Thus, an online “news pinboard” with separate sections for the different teams or departments can be helpful. It could relieve the pressure on the employees’ working routine.
Improve communication strategies
The fact is that 60,8% of recipients tend to ignore emails at work. Either voluntarily or due to the amount of incoming company communication. Therefore, companies should refrain from sending massive emails to all the employees since most of them will not concern everyone. It could also be the case that they are so overloaded at work. As a result, they do not want to read irrelevant emails from the HR department. Thus, managers and HR professionals should explore texting or in-app messaging or even an in-person chat if something important needs to be shared. It will be faster, more effective, and lighten the load of everyone’s inbox.
Furthermore, when managers have a lot to share with their teams, it is better to send a long email (like a team update) or send a presentation of their ideas and ask for feedback. These actions will reduce the amount of back and forth emails and centralize the team’s focus on one communication channel. Of course, it should be ignored that managers and teams should find the right communication strategies for in-team topics but also to build communication bridges during client meetings.
Get some tech-free time
This tip can prove to be the most lifesaving one to follow. Finding some minutes throughout the day to take your mind off, chatting, and answering emails to get some peace of mind is required. Employees should try not to take their phones with them when taking breaks. Notifications will pop up there too. An even better idea is to set specific times during the day to check emails and communication channels. This way, they will be able to organize their actual work more efficiently. Or even better, professionals can track the time they devote to emailing and team communication to know how much of each day is spent on these tasks.
The problem of communication overload is real, and it’s impacting employees in the worst possible way. Information should be working as an ally to the professional and not an obstacle. Thus, managers should work on improving communication strategies in order to accommodate their teams. Employees that are not overloaded at work with emails, apps, and notifications are healthier, more effective, and contribute to the smoother functioning of a company.