If there is a single behaviour in my life that borders on the pathological, it is the urge I feel to log on and check my emails. When I have no email access (such as when I am on a plane or am on holiday staying at a foreign beachside villa with no Wi-Fi) I function perfectly well but as soon as I know there is a Wi-Fi connection, the first thing I typically do is check my emails. It’s like an itch that I have to scratch. Given that the vast majority of my emails are work-related I don’t necessarily see this as problematic (as I love my work) but it does admittedly facilitate my workaholic tendencies. The psychology and psychosocial impact of email use is also an area that I have published a few articles and book chapters on (see ‘Further reading’ below).
The reason I mention all this is that earlier this month, many of the British newspapers featured a story about how turning off automatic emails helps reduce stress levels. The survey study of just under 2,000 individuals was carried out by psychologists at the Future Work Centre (FWC) and examined the impact of ‘email pressure’ on individuals’ work-life balance. The report noted that there were “2.5 billion email users worldwide, and adults spent an average of over an hour of each day on emails, according to Radicati and Ofcom”. The FWC’s main findings (which I have taken verbatim from the report) highlighted:
- A strong relationship between using ‘push’ email and perceived email pressure. This means that people who automatically receive email on their devices were more likely to report higher perceived email pressure.
- People who leave their email on all day were much more likely to report perceived email pressure.
- Checking email earlier in the morning or later at night is associated with higher levels of perceived email pressure.
- Managers experience significantly higher levels of perceived email pressure when compared to non-managers.
- Higher email pressure was associated with more examples of work negatively impacting home life and home life negatively impacting performance at work.
- Perceived email pressure is significantly higher in people with caring responsibilities. This finding is probably less of a surprise, as the work-life balance research literature is full of examples citing the challenges facing carers when it comes to navigating the boundaries between work and home. Interestingly, our data didn’t reveal any significant differences between people with different caring responsibilities. It seems that just having these responsibilities is associated with significantly higher email pressure.
- Personality appears to moderate the relationship between perceived email pressure and work-life balance. People who rate their own ability and sense of control over their environment lower find that work interferes more with their home life, and vice versa.
Clearly the benefits of email outweigh the disadvantages but as the FWC report noted, emails are a “double-edged sword” in that that they are clearly a useful communication tool but can be a source of stress. The report concluded that:
“[The results of the study] link perceptions of email pressure to actual work-life balance outcomes, not just perceptions of work-life balance. But that’s not the end of the story. Whilst we’ve identified the external factors that affect our perceived email pressure and explored the relationship between perceived email pressure and work-life balance, there’s another variable we should consider in order to increase our understanding of an individual’s experience of email – personality…Personality moderates the relationship between perceived email pressure and all work-life balance outcomes. It shows that people with low core self-evaluation experience more interference, both positive and negative, between their work and home lives – i.e. they are more sensitive to how the two domains – work and home – affect each other. This could be due to how people with low core self-evaluation make sense of their world. People with high core self-evaluation don’t see these things as happening to them – they can take control and set boundaries”.
The report also provided some tips to combat email stress many of which can be found in other articles examining the topic. For instance, back in 2004, I published my own set of tips in the British Medical Journal (not that I follow my own advice based on what I said in the opening paragraph of this article). However, I’ll end this blog with my (hopefully) common-sense and practical advice:
- Set retrieval limits: Limit email retrieval to a few times per day (say when you first get in, lunchtime, and/or just before you leave work). You will spend less time both reading and responding to each email than if you had read them when they individually came in.
- Turn off instant messaging system: There is a tendency to look at emails straight away if the instant messaging system is turned on. This is only helpful when you are expecting a message.
- Get a good spam filter: There is nothing worse than an inbox full of junk mail so invest in a good filter system.
- Use your ‘auto delete’ button: If there are constant junk emails that you get most days then use the ‘auto delete’ button to avoid them appearing in your inbox.
- Develop a good filing system: The setting up of a good email filing system is paramount in keeping on top of your emails. This is no different to the desktop management system on your computer. You can put unread messages into appropriate folders to read at a later time and reducing the size of your inbox. A good filing system also aids in retrieving important emails at a later date.
- Reply and file: Once you have replied to an email either delete it immediately or file it away in a separate email folder.
- Use your ‘out of office’ assistant facility: This will help reduce the repeated emails from the same people asking “Did you get my earlier email?” Once people know you are unavailable for a given time period they may not send the email in the first place.
- Print out hard copies of really important e-mails: There is always a chance that emails can get lost or accidentally deleted. If it is really important, print a hard copy straight away and file it.
- Be selective in who you respond to: When responding to an email sent to a group, don’t necessarily reply to all the group. This will cut down on the number of potential replies.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Byron, K. (2008). Carrying too heavy a load? The communication and miscommunication of emotion by email. Academy of Management Review, 33, 309-327.
Future Work Centre (2015). You’ve got mail: Research Report 2015. London: Future Work Centre. Located at: http://www.futureworkcentre.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/FWC-Youve-got-mail-research-report.pdf
Giumetti, G.W., Hatfield, A.L., Scisco, J. L., Schroeder, A.N., Muth, E.R., & Kowalski, R. M. (2013). What a rude email! Examining the differential effects of incivility versus support on mood, energy, engagement, and performance in an online context. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18, 297-309.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Hey! Wait, just a minute, Mister Postman: The joy of e-mail. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 373.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Tips on…Managing your e-mails. British Medical Journal Careers, 329, 240.
Griffiths, M.D. & Dennis, F. (2000). How to beat techno-stress. Independent on Sunday (Reality section), May 7, p.22.
Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Emails with unintended criminal consequences. The Criminal Lawyer, 130, 6-8.
Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Emails with unintended consequences: New lessons for policy and practice in work, public office and private life. In P. Hills (Ed.). As Others See Us: Selected Essays In Human Communication (pp. 160-182). Dereham: Peter Francis Publishers.
Ng, K. (2016). Turn off automatic email updates to ease stress, psychologists advise. The Independent, January 5. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/turn-off-automatic-email-updates-to-ease-stress-psychologists-advise-a6794826.html
Radicati, S. & Levenstein, J. (2014). Email Statistics Report, 2014-2018. Located at: http://www.radicati.com/?p=10644
One of the more interesting research avenues in the psychology of gambling is whether there might be a unique “gambling personality”, that is, a trait-cluster that marks out the gambler as a risk taker. One of the problems with this whole area of research is that personality is a hypothetical construct that isn’t easy to define. However, most psychologists would probably agree that a person’s personality centres on the distinctive and characteristic patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour that define their personal style, and influence their interactions with the environment. The use of psychometric tests in research on gamblers has not been particularly promising. Most research has been carried out on three personality dimensions – ‘sensation-seeking’, ‘extroversion’ and ‘locus of control’.
The American psychologist Marvin Zuckerman defined sensation-seeking as the “need for varied, novel and complex sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience.” This should mean that gamblers are higher than non-gamblers on sensation-seeking measures. However, studies in this area have provided contrasting results with some studies supporting the theory, some studies showing no difference between gamblers and non-gamblers, and others showing gamblers to be lower on sensation-seeking than non-gamblers!
In studies on extraversion, the findings have again proved contradictory. Since extraverts are highly sociable, crave excitement, and enjoy noisy and active environments the theory is that gamblers are more likely to be extraverted. Although some studies have indeed found gamblers to be more extraverted than control groups, other studies have found gamblers to have lower extraversion scores or have found no difference.
One personality trait that has received more consistent findings is that of locus of control. This personality trait refers to a person’s perception of how their own efforts effect events. For instance, ‘internal’ individuals attribute their experiences to their own actions whereas ‘external’ individuals attribute their experiences to chance. Research has shown that ‘internal’ individuals gamble more persistently when chasing losses because they believe all that is required is an increase in concentration and an overall improved effort in order to win. However, one of the problems with research into locus of control is that we do not know the direction of causality, that is, whether their particular locus of control preceded the gambling, or whether the gambling preceded their locus of control.
So why are there so few consistent results surrounding personality and gambling? One of the most obvious answers is that gambling is multi-faceted and not a unitary phenomenon. Treating all forms of gambling as equivalent in terms of underlying psychology, personality or motivation may cloud the issue rather than clarify it. For instance, can we really say that a regular lottery player has similar underlying psychology to a regular slot machine player? Is an online poker player similar to a roulette gambler? Of course not – and that is one of the reasons for inconsistent findings. Psychologists have tended to clump gamblers together as if they were a unified and homogenous group of people.
In addition, demographic differences – such as age, gender, and culture – may produce very different findings in motivation to gamble. For instance, an adult horserace gambler cannot be easily compared to an adolescent slot machine player; a male sports gambler cannot be easily compared to a female bingo player; and slot machine players in the UK cannot necessarily be compared to slot machine players in the US. What’s more, each individual gambling activity has its own unique structural differences. For instance, gambling can be differentiated in terms of stake size, time gap between each gamble, skill level, prize structures, size of jackpot etc. Each of these differences may have implications for the gambler’s motivations and the interplay between personality and the individual gambling activity.
It would appear from this brief overview that the usefulness and the value of psychometric-based personality studies remain doubtful. The notion that gamblers possess a unique set of variables or traits is a naive over-simplification and appears to be a fruitless direction for research. Gambling is complex and multidimensional, and personality factors are too ‘global’ to serve as the single cause. Research into gambling is still at a relatively early stage, and it is clear that a person’s gambling behaviour results from an interaction between many different variables including environmental, social, psychological and biological.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Benson, L., Norman, C. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The role of impulsivity, sensation seeking, coping, and year of study in student gambling: A pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, DOI 10.1007/s11469-011-9326-5.
McDaniel, S., & Zuckerman, M. (2003). The relationship of impulsive sensation seeking and gender to interest and participation in gambling activities. Personality and Individual Differences, 35, 1385-1400.
Myrseth, H., Pallesen, S., Molde, H., Johnsen, B. & Lorvik, I. (2009) Personality factors as predictors of pathological gambling. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 933-937.
Parke, A., Griffiths, M.D. & Irwing, P. (2004). Personality traits in pathological gambling: Sensation seeking, deferment of gratification and competitiveness as risk factors, Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 201-212.
Wagenaar, W.A. (1988). Paradoxes of Gambling Behaviour. Erlbaum, London.
Zuckerman, M. (2005) Faites vos jeux anouveau: Still another look at sensation seeking and pathological gambling. Personality and Individual Differences, 39, 361-365.