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Research Report
Checking email less frequently reduces stress
Kostadin Kushlev
, Elizabeth W. Dunn
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
article info
Article history:
Available online 22 November 2014
Keywords:
Email
Subjective well-being
Stress
HCI
Well-being at work
abstract
Using email is one of the most common online activities in the world today. Yet, very little experimental
research has examined the effect of email on well-being. Utilizing a within-subjects design, we investi-
gated how the frequency of checking email affects well-being over a period of two weeks. During one
week, 124 adults were randomly assigned to limit checking their email to three times a day; during
the other week, participants could check their email an unlimited number of times per day. We found
that during the limited email use week, participants experienced significantly lower daily stress than
during the unlimited email use week. Lower stress, in turn, predicted higher well-being on a diverse
range of well-being outcomes. These findings highlight the benefits of checking email less frequently
for reducing psychological stress.
Ó2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Every day, 183 billion emails are sent and received worldwide
(Radicati & Levenstein, 2013). Email is among the most widespread
online activities—in a 2011 survey, 92% of US adults reported using
email to communicate (Pew Research Center, 2011). In addition to
this ubiquity of email, people’s inboxes play a central role in their
lives: More than one-third of US adults surveyed in 2014 said that
email would be ‘very hard’ to give up—more than three times as
many people who said the same about social media (Pew
Research Center, 2014). And, according to one survey, about
one-third of US workers report replying within 15 min of receiving
a work email, and three-fourths reply within an hour (Kelleher,
2013). The popular press is rife with claims about the effects on
well-being of this ubiquity of email in the life of today’s informa-
tion worker. Best sellers, such as the Four Hour Work Week
(Ferriss, 2007), recommend a variety of approaches to reducing
stress at work by, for example, checking email only twice a day.
In stark contrast to this abundance of causal claims in the popular
discourse, very little experimental research has explored how
different approaches to dealing with email actually impact
well-being. Accordingly, in the present research, we set out to
conduct the first experimental field study to investigate whether
the frequency with which people check email exerts a causal
impact on their well-being.
Correlational research has provided preliminary evidence that
dealing with email may be associated with negative outcomes for
well-being (for a review, see Taylor, Fieldman, & Altman, 2008).
This correlational research indicates that people who handle more
email experience lower job satisfaction (Merten & Gloor, 2010) and
perceive email as a greater source of stress (Jerejian, Reid, & Rees,
2013; Mano & Mesch, 2010). Similarly, people who spend more
time on email report greater work overload (e.g., feeling emotion-
ally drained, frustrated, and stressed from work; Barley, Meyerson,
& Grodal, 2011). Of course, this correlational research does not
enable inferences about the causal effect of email on well-being.
A busier work schedule, for example, may result in both dealing
with more email and perceiving one’s job as a greater source of
stress.
If email does have a causal effect on well-being, what specific
aspects of dealing with a larger inbox influence well-being? One
possibility is that simply thinking about the ballooning size of
one’s inbox directly causes more stress, thus compromising
well-being. In contrast to this possibility, however, people who
handle more emails at work perceive email as a way to improve
work effectiveness (Mano & Mesch, 2010) and see themselves as
more able to cope with stressors (Barley et al., 2011). Another
popular idea is that email reduces well-being because it allows
people to work longer hours, by, for example, answering emails
from home (e.g., Renaud, Ramsay, & Hair, 2006). Contrary to this
idea, the time spent working does not mediate the relationship
between time spent on email and work overload (Barley et al.,
2011). Thus, neither sheer email volume nor time spent on email
seems to influence well-being directly. A third possibility is that
the effect of dealing with email on well-being depends on the
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.11.005
0747-5632/Ó2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author at: Department of Psychology, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Tel.: +1 778 866 2525.
E-mail address: kostadinpk@psych.ubc.ca (K. Kushlev).
Computers in Human Behavior 43 (2015) 220–228
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Computers in Human Behavior
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/comphumbeh
way people manage their large inboxes. Providing some initial
support for this possibility, a training program in effective email
management resulted in less self-reported workflow impairment
due to email and reduced level of email strain (e.g., being annoyed
by email; Soucek & Moser, 2010).
One critical aspect of managing email is how frequently people
attend to their inbox (e.g., Dabbish & Kraut, 2006). Faced with the
constant flow of new email messages, some people respond by
frequently switching between other tasks and their email
(Gonzáles & Mark, 2004; Jackson, Dawson, & Wilson, 2001, 2003;
Whittaker, Bellotti, & Gwizdka, 2006; Whittaker & Sidner, 1997).
Employees in one British company, for example, were interrupted
by email on average every five minutes, and the typical worker
responded within six seconds of receiving an email (Jackson
et al., 2001, 2003). Even in the absence of such frequent external
interruptions, email may provide a readily available source of
distraction, which is important considering that self-interruptions
account for 40% of all interruptions at work (Czerwinski, Horvitz, &
Wilhite, 2004). In short, people often manage their email by
attending to their inbox frequently, thus resulting in frequent
interruptions and switching between tasks. In the present
research, we set out to experimentally examine how the frequent
interruptions and task switching due to email impact well-being.
2. Theory and relevance to basic research
A wealth of basic research and theory documents the toll of task
switching on cognitive resources. Classical theorizing in cognitive
psychology postulates that people have limited cognitive resources
(Navon & Gopher, 1979; Pashler, 1998), and basic research has
shown that when two tasks require the same cognitive resource
(e.g., working memory), people cannot perform these tasks simul-
taneously and have to instead switch between tasks (Garavan,
1998; Liefooghe, Barrouillet, Vandierendonck, & Camos, 2008;
Oberauer, 2003). According to the time-based resource sharing
model of attention (Barrouillet, Bernardin, & Camos, 2004), the
very act of switching between tasks requires deployment of atten-
tion, thus further taxing people’s limited cognitive resources and
resulting in greater cognitive load (Barrouillet et al., 2004;
Liefooghe et al., 2008). To make matters worse, according to the
load theory of attention (Lavie, 2010), higher cognitive load can
further increase proneness to distraction (Lavie & De Fockert,
2005; Lavie, Hirst, De Fockert, & Viding, 2004), thus potentially
resulting in even more multitasking.
Although relatively little research has directly examined how
frequent task switching throughout the day impacts well-being,
there are several reasons to believe that the cognitive tax associ-
ated with task switching may be detrimental to well-being. First,
unsurprisingly, the greater cognitive load induced by frequent task
switching has been postulated and shown to impair performance
and speed of completing tasks that require cognitive effort
(Bowman, Levine, Waite, & Gendron, 2010; Rubinstein, Meyer, &
Evans, 2001). Thus, frequent multitasking may result in doing
worse at work tasks, potentially increasing stress. In support of this
prediction, when participants in a lab experiment were frequently
interrupted by instant messages, they reported greater stress and
frustration while working on another task (Mark, Gudith, &
Klocke, 2008). In another study, after obtaining baseline measure-
ments of task switching and physiological stress (as measured by
heart rate variability) during three regular workdays, researchers
asked a convenience sample of 13 workers to completely refrain
from checking new email for five workdays (Mark, Voida, &
Cordello, 2012). When they were cut off from new email, these
workers both switched less between work tasks and experienced
less stress as compared to baseline, suggesting a potential link
between task switching and stress.
Second, both psychological theory and research suggest that
cognitive resources are essential for emotion regulation (Holzel
et al., 2011; Posner & Rothbart, 2007), and therefore, to the extent
that switching between tasks taxes cognitive resources, frequent
task switching may compromise emotional well-being. Indeed,
experimental research has shown that increasing the frequency
of interruptions during a cognitive task leads to less positive affect
(Zijlstra, Roe, Leonora, & Krediet, 1999).
In short, basic theory and research suggest that frequent task
switching can increase cognitive load and impair performance,
with potential downstream consequences for well-being. In
addition, recent research has shown that people tend to check their
email frequently throughout the day (e.g., Jackson et al., 2001,
2003), thus effectively making email into a source of task switch-
ing. No experimental research, however, has ever directly explored
whether the frequency with which people check their emails has
an impact on well-being. Thus, building on psychological theory
and basic research on task switching, we set out to conduct the
first experimental field investigation directly examining how the
frequency of checking email affects well-being.
3. Summary of the present research
Preliminary evidence has suggested a link between email and
lower well-being, but most research has been correlational,
preventing any causal conclusions. Furthermore, most researchers
have used overall email volume to predict well-being, although
evidence indicates that inbox size might matter less than the
way people manage their large inboxes. A common approach to
managing one’s inbox is to check email frequently and respond
to incoming messages quickly, which results in frequent task
switching and task interruptions. Although some research suggests
that interrupting and switching between tasks can be detrimental
to well-being, no research has ever directly examined whether
people experience improved well-being when they check
email less frequently. In the present research, we set out to
experimentally examine how the frequency of checking email
affects subjective well-being.
4. Method
To examine whether checking email less frequently can
improve well-being, we designed a two-week within-subjects
study. Specifically, we randomly assigned participants to minimize
the frequency of checking their email during one week and to max-
imize frequency during the other week. Based on previous research
linking email to stress, we assessed weekly and daily stress, as well
as stress during a particular important activity. Due to the dearth
of research on how handling email can impact other components
of well-being, we adopted an exploratory approach and assessed
the effects of our manipulation on a wide range of established
well-being outcomes. Specifically, given previous theorizing
underscoring the importance of measuring theoretically distinct
components of well-being (Biswas-Diener, Kashdan, & King,
2009; Kashdan, Biswas-Diener, & King, 2008; Ryan & Huta, 2009;
Ryff, 1989), we included measures of both hedonic (e.g., affect)
and eudaimonic well-being (e.g., meaning in life, environmental
mastery). Finally, to capture other important aspects of optimal
day-to-day functioning, we examined mindfulness, perceived sleep
quality, and self-reported productivity.
4.1. Participants
A total of 142 adults agreed to participate in this two-week
study. Eighteen participants dropped out of the study before
K. Kushlev, E.W. Dunn / Computers in Human Behavior 43 (2015) 220–228 221
completing at least one questionnaire in each condition,
1
leaving a
final sample of 124 participants (age: M= 30, SD = 10; sex: 67%
female). Participants were predominantly Caucasian (55%) or Asian
(28%). About two-thirds of the sample identified as either graduate
or undergraduate students (M
age
= 27 years). The remaining
one-third of participants were community members who came from
a range of occupations and industries including health care (e.g.,
doctor, pharmacist), academia (e.g., professor), finance (e.g., financial
analyst), administration (e.g., secretary), and IT (e.g., software devel-
oper). Participants were recruited through posters in community
centers, paid advertisements in local newspapers, listservs, and
snowball sampling. We advertised the study as suitable for people
who got a lot of email and sometimes felt overwhelmed by it.
Participants only qualified for the study if they had some flexibility
in how often they could check their email and were interested in
experimenting with the way they managed their email. Participants
received the chance to win $150 and the option to receive individu-
alized feedback about their well-being during the study.
4.2. Design and manipulation
We used a counterbalanced within-subjects design. Participants
were first invited to complete an initial survey, in which they com-
pleted basic demographic questions and reported how many times
they checked their email on a typical workday. On the first Sunday
after this initial survey, participants received a set of instructions
on how to handle their email for the following work week. The
next Sunday, participants received a different set of instructions
for handling their email during the second week of the study.
The order of instructions was counterbalanced, such that
participants were randomly assigned to spend one week in our
unlimited email condition and the other week in our limited email
condition. Random assignment was performed using a random
number generator.
In the unlimited email condition, we instructed participants to
check their email as often as they could, and to keep their mailbox
open throughout the day; additionally, participants were asked to
switch on any email notification systems that they used. By con-
trast, in the limited email condition, we instructed participants to
check their email 3 times per day, while keeping their mailbox
closed during the rest of the day and switching off any new email
alerts. Although we sought to maximize the between-condition
difference in how often people checked email, we imposed a fairly
moderate limit on email usage (3/day) with the goal of enabling a
diverse sample of participants to comply with the instructions.
At 5 pm on each weekday during the two study weeks, we sent
participants a link to complete a survey. Because we wanted to
include busy professionals in our sample, we limited the time
necessary to complete each daily survey to approximately
10 min. Thus, some measures evaluating day-to-day well-being
were included only on certain days. Specifically, some scales were
administered only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, whereas
others were administered only on Tuesday and Thursday. In
addition, for longer measures, we preselected items from existing
scales in order to create shorter scales that could be administered
more frequently throughout the study. All scales, including
abbreviated scales, showed acceptable to good statistical reliability
(see Table 1). All survey questions and the verbatim manipulation
instructions are available online at osf.io/cx7z6.
The average number of surveys participants completed per
week was 4.4/5, indicating a good overall completion rate.
Importantly, there were no differences in completion rate between
the limited (M= 4.4) and unlimited (M= 4.4) conditions. Because
some participants did not complete surveys on some days, degrees
of freedom vary somewhat between measures.
4.3. Measures
4.3.1. Manipulation checks
We measured the successfulness of the manipulation with self-
report measures of the frequency with which people checked email
on particular days of the week. Although more objective estimates
of the frequency of checking email can be obtained using software
that tracks actual behavior, we opted for self-report measures in
order to be able to recruit participants from a wide range of differ-
ent professions and companies. In addition, because each survey
was completed at the end of the day, we expect people’s self-
reports to be fairly accurate representations of their actual behav-
ior (c.f., Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2004).
Accordingly, on Monday and Friday of each week, participants
reported how often they had checked their email throughout the
day on a scale from 0 to 30+; participants were encouraged to
report their actual email use regardless of the experimental
instructions. At the initial baseline survey before participants were
assigned to condition, participants also reported the number of
times they normally checked their email during a workday. In
addition, on Mondays and Fridays of each week of the experiment,
we also collected other descriptive information about email use,
including the time spent using email and the number of emails
received and answered.
4.3.2. Dependent measures
4.3.2.1. Day-level measures. Each daily survey asked participants to
report how distracted they felt by email and included a series of
questions broadly assessing their subjective experience during that
day. Specifically, to assess well-being, we measured stress, as well
as hedonic and eudaimonic components of well-being, including
daily affect (i.e., positive and negative affect), social connectedness,
environmental mastery, nonhedonic well-being, and meaning in
life. Additionally, we measured their overall state mindfulness,
productivity, and sleep quality (see Table 1).
4.3.2.2. Activity-level measures. On Wednesday of each week,
participants were prompted to select one of the most important
activities they did on this day. Our goal was to assess people’s level
of stress and basic need satisfaction (Ryan & Deci, 2000) during a
particular activity. Specifically, we measured task tension, per-
ceived competence, and interest/enjoyment (see Table 1).
4.3.2.3. Week-level measures. Finally, we measured participants’
overall evaluation of their well-being over each week of the study.
Specifically, on Thursday of each week, participants completed
measures of stress, environmental mastery, presence of meaning
in life, and perceived productivity with regards to their experience
‘‘over the past week’’ (see Table 1).
5. Results
5.1. Manipulation checks
Confirming the success of our manipulation, people checked
their email significantly fewer times per day in the limited email
condition (M= 4.70, SD = 4.10) than in the unlimited email condi-
tion (M= 12.54, SD = 8.02; t[115] = 10.23, p< .001). Importantly,
1
Of the 18 people who dropped out before completing at least one survey per
week, 7 did not complete any surveys during both weeks and the remaining 11
completed at least one survey during the first week, but none in the second week. For
those 11, the dropout rate from each condition was virtually the same: 8% dropped
out when checking email was minimized and when 8% when checking email was
maximized.
222 K. Kushlev, E.W. Dunn / Computers in Human Behavior 43 (2015) 220–228
Table 1
Measures and main effects.
Level Variable Source Scale Days measured Selected items Item selection rationale
a
’s M(SD)
limited
email
M(SD)
unlimited
email
Cohen’s
d
Day Email
distraction
NA 0 – not at all; 6 – very
much
Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday
‘‘Overall, how distracted were you by your
emails today?’’
We created a face-valid item NA 1.83 (1.18) 2.18 (1.36) .51
**
Stress Perceived Stress
Scale (PSS, Cohen,
Kamarck, &
Mermelstein,
1983)
0 – never; 4 – very
often
Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday
‘‘1. Today, how often have you felt that
you were unable to control the important
things in your life?’’
We picked 5 items from this 10-item
measure because they were
adaptable to measure daily stress
.55–.85 1.46 (.55) 1.55 (.57) .37
*
‘‘2. Today, how often have you felt nervous
and ‘stressed’?’’
‘‘3. Today, how often have you found that
you could not cope with all the things that
you had to do?’’
‘‘4. Today, how often have you felt that
you were on top of things?’’ (R)
‘‘5. Today, how often have you been
angered because of things that were
outside of your control?’’
Positive and
negative affect
PANAS (Watson,
Clark, & Tellegen,
1988).
1 – very slightly or not
at all; 5 – extremely
Tuesday, Thursday All 20 items + an additional item (‘happy’)
in the positive affect scale (see Aknin,
Dunn, Whillans, Grant, & Norton, 2013)
NA Positive
.90–.91
2.87 (.65) 2.90 (.69) .10
Negative
.86–.89
1.73 (.61) 1.71 (.61) .08
Nonhedonic
well-being
White and Dolan
(2009)
0 – not at all; 6 – very
much
Monday, Wednesday,
Friday
All items NA .86–.93 3.76 (.93) 3.71 (1.01) .15
Environmental
mastery
Environmental
mastery—short
scale (EM; Ryff &
Keys, 1995)
1 – strongly disagree; 6
– strongly agree
Tuesday, Thursday All items. NA .60–.78 4.06 (.80) 4.10 (.88) .08
Social
connectedness
Social
connectedness
scale (Lee, Draper,
& Lee, 2001)
1 – strongly disagree; 6
– strongly agree
Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday
‘‘1. Today, I felt distant from people.’’ (R) We chose 2 items from this 20-item
scale. Item 1 was chosen because it
had the highest factor loading of all
other items. Item 2 was chosen
because it had strong face validity
.75–.85 4.10 (.87) 4.07 (.88) .06
‘‘2. Today, I felt close to people.’’
Meaning in life Kushlev, Dunn,
and Ashton-James
(2012)
0 – not at all; 6 – very
much
Tuesday, Thursday Single-item scale NA NA 3.47 (1.18) 3.40 (1.20) .12
State
mindfulness
State mindfulness
scale (Brown &
Ryan, 2003)
1 – almost never; 6 –
almost always
Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday
All items .85–.90 2.51 (.71) 2.64 (.83) .22
Perceived
productivity
NA 0 – not at all; 6 – very
much
Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday
‘‘1. Overall today, did you feel you got
done the things at work that were most
important to you?’’
We created Items 1 and 2 to as face-
valid measures of people’s sense of
accomplishment from work. Item 3
was adapted from the basic need
satisfaction at work scale
.85–.92 3.47 (1.06) 3.41 (1.14) .12
‘‘2. Overall today, how satisfied were you
with what you accomplished at work?’’
‘‘3. Overall today, to what extent did you
feel a sense of accomplishment from
working?’’
Sleep quality NA 0 – very bad; 6 – very
good
Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday,
‘‘Overall, how would your rate the quality
of your sleep last night?’’
We created a face-valid measure of
sleep
NA 3.71 (1.09) 3.79 (1.00) .19
(continued on next page)
K. Kushlev, E.W. Dunn / Computers in Human Behavior 43 (2015) 220–228 223
Table 1 (continued)
Level Variable Source Scale Days measured Selected items Item selection rationale
a
’s M(SD)
limited
email
M(SD)
unlimited
email
Cohen’s
d
Friday
Activity Pressure/
tension
Ryan, Mims, and
Koestner (1983)
1 – not at all true; 7 –
very true
Wednesday All items NA .76–.86 3.50 (1.48) 3.81 (1.34) .45
Interest/
enjoyment
Ryan (1982) 1 – not at all true; 7 –
very true
Wednesday All items NA .93–.94 3.52 (1.46) 3.80 (1.53) .39
Perceived
competence
McAuley, Duncan,
and Tammen
(1987)
1 – not at all true; 7 –
very true
Wednesday All items NA .92–.94 4.64 (1.54) 4.44 (1.46) .28
Week Stress PSS (Cohen et al.,
1983)
0 – never; 4 – very
often
Thursday All items NA .82–.85 1.68 (.63) 1.67 (.67) .04
Environmental
mastery
EM (Ryff & Keys,
1995)
1 – strongly disagree; 6
– strongly agree
Thursday All items NA .73–.84 4.05 (1.06) 4.02 (.99) .07
Meaning in life Meaning in life
questionnaire—
presence of
meaning subscale
(Steger, Frazier,
Oishi, & Kaler,
2006)
1 – absolutely untrue;
7 – absolutely true
Thursday All items NA .92 4.69 (1.48) 4.65 (1.35) .09
Perceived
productivity
NA 0 – not at all; 6 – very
much
Thursday See daily measure See daily measure .88–.90 3.55 (1.09) 3.56 (1.19) .01
Notes. Alpha values are calculated separately for each day the corresponding questionnaire was administered; stress was measured only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for some participants.
p< .10.
*
p< .05.
**
p< .01.
224 K. Kushlev, E.W. Dunn / Computers in Human Behavior 43 (2015) 220–228
the average number of times people reported checking their email
on a normal day at work was 15.48 at baseline (SD = 8.69)—similar
to number of times reported in the unlimited email condition, but
substantially higher than in the limited email condition. Thus, our
experimental manipulation made people check their email less fre-
quently than usual in the limited email condition, but produced
trivial differences in people’s behavior as compared to normal in
the unlimited email condition. In short, our manipulation was suc-
cessful in inducing differences in how people managed their email
across conditions with the limited email instructions driving these
differences in behavior. Intriguingly, there were no significant dif-
ferences between conditions in how many emails people received
(M
limited
= 16.64 vs. M
unlimited
= 16.04, t(114) = 1.31, p= .19) or
responded to (M
limited
= 5.30 vs. M
unlimited
= 5.95, t(115) = 1.58,
p= .12), suggesting that our manipulation primarily affected how
often people checked email rather than the volume of email they
managed.
5.2. Direct effects
Our goal was to explore whether manipulating how often peo-
ple checked email would affect their subjective experience. First,
we ran a series of ANOVAS comparing people’s experiences in each
of the two conditions as assessed by all activity, day, and week
level measures. In order to minimize the effect of individual day
variation, we calculated weekly composites for all constructs that
were assessed on more than one day of each week. We found that
participants felt less daily stress in the limited as compared to the
unlimited email condition, F(1, 121) = 4.18, p= .04, Cohen’s d = .37
(for descriptive statistics on all measures, see Table 1;d-scores
were calculated using the paired-samples F-test conversion tool
of the ESCI software, as recommended by Cumming, 2012). Consis-
tent with this difference in day-to-day stress, when engaged in a
specific important activity, people felt less tense in the limited as
compared to the unlimited email condition, F(1, 96) = 3.84, p= .05,
Cohen’s d = .45. Interestingly, while limiting the frequency of
checking email influenced people’s daily stress and the tension
they felt during a particular activity, the manipulation did not
affect their memory of how stressful the week had been overall,
F(1, 91) = .04, p= .838, Cohen’s d = .04. In addition to the main
effects on stress, we also found that people felt less distracted by
their email in the limited as compared to the unlimited email condi-
tion, F(1, 123) = 8.04, p= .01, Cohen’s d = .51. No other significant
main effects emerged, although people reported marginally greater
enjoyment during a particular important activity in the unlimited
vs. limited email condition, F(1, 96) = 3.71, p= .06, Cohen’s d = .39.
To examine whether our manipulation produced different
effects for students vs. community members, we ran a series of
mixed ANOVAs with condition as a within-subjects factor and sta-
tus (student vs. community member) as a between-subjects factor.
We found that student status did not moderate the effect of condi-
tion on tension, F(1, 94) = .65, p= .42, or daily stress, F(1,
119) = 1.07, p= .30. Student status, however, moderated the effect
of condition on distraction by email, F(1, 121) = 5.27, p= .02,
although the main effect of condition remained significant, F(1,
121) = 4.29, p= .04. Post-hoc analyses indicated that while stu-
dents were significantly less distracted by their email in the limited
email condition than in the unlimited email condition (p= .001),
community members were not (p= .89).
In short, stress was the only outcome variable that was consis-
tently and directly influenced by our manipulation. Because stress
can have a wide range of downstream consequences for well-being
(Bolger, DeLongis, Kessler, & Schilling, 1989; Daniels & Guppy,
1994; DeLongis, Folkman, & Lazarus, 1988; Dua, 1994; Lazarus,
2006), reducing stress by checking email less often may have
broader implications for well-being. Accordingly, we next examine
Fig. 1. Relationships between daily stress and daily well-being ordered by effect size (b). Effect sizes represent the effect of the difference in stress between the limited and
unlimited email conditions on the difference in the outcomes measures between the two conditions (see Eq. (1) for details of analyses).
p< .05;
⁄⁄
p< .01;
⁄⁄⁄
p< .001.
K. Kushlev, E.W. Dunn / Computers in Human Behavior 43 (2015) 220–228 225
whether the differences in stress between conditions predicted
other measures of well-being.
5.3. Indirect effects through stress
To examine the indirect effect of our manipulation on well-
being through stress, we followed recommendations by Judd,
Kenny, and McClelland (2001) for conducting mediation analyses
with repeated measures. As show in Eq. (1) below, in each case,
we predicted the difference scores in the outcome variables (Y)
from sum and difference scores of stress (X). The difference scores
were calculated by subtracting the unlimited email scores from
their corresponding scores in the limited email week. The regres-
sion coefficient of the difference score of stress controlling for its
sum score is the measure of indirect effect of condition on well-
being through stress (Judd et al., 2001). If the difference score of
stress significantly predicts the difference score of other well-being
measures, this will provide initial evidence that by influencing
stress, checking email less frequently may have broader implica-
tions for well-being.
Y
diff
¼b
1
X
sum
þb
2
X
diff
þ
e
;where ð1Þ
ðaÞY
diff
¼Y
limited
Y
unlimited
ðbÞX
diff
¼X
limited
X
unlimited
ðcÞX
sum
¼X
limited
þX
unlimited
Using Eq. (1), we found that lower daily stress in the limited email
condition was associated with significantly better subjective expe-
riences across almost all daily measures (see Fig. 1). That is, stress
was associated with significantly higher negative affect (b= .37,
p< .001) and marginally lower positive affect (b=.16, p= .10).
Stress was also negatively associated with state mindfulness
(b=.43, p< .001), nonhedonic well-being (b=.42, p< .001),
environmental mastery (b=.40, p< .001), meaning in life
(b=.26, p= .01), social connectedness (b=.24, p= .01), self-
reported productivity (b=.23, p= .01), and sleep quality
(b=.22, p= .02; see Fig. 1).
Finally, we examined whether daily stress predicted people’s
reports of their overall weekly well-being. Unsurprisingly, daily
stress was predictive of weekly stress (b= .50, p< .001). Addition-
ally, daily stress was related to weekly environmental mastery
(b=.37, p< .001). People who experienced more day-to-day
stress also reported somewhat lower productivity (b=.19,
p= .07) and slightly less meaning in life (b=.12, p= .26) during
the week, although these effects did not reach statistical
significance.
Taken together, this pattern of indirect effects points to the con-
clusion that checking email less frequently might have broader
downstream consequences for well-being by reducing stress.
Because indirect effect analyses are inherently correlational, how-
ever, the present research only provides direct causal evidence for
the impact of our manipulation on stress.
6. Discussion
In the first experimental field study examining the effect of
checking email less frequently, people experienced reduced stress
when they were assigned to limit the number of times they
checked their email. Specifically, limiting the number of times
people checked their email per day lessened tension during a
particular important activity and lowered overall day-to-day
stress. In turn, lower daily stress was associated with higher
well-being, as assessed by a range of outcomes including hedonic
(e.g., affect) and eudaimonic outcomes (e.g., meaning in life, envi-
ronmental mastery, social connectedness). Furthermore, lower
stress was associated with other positive outcomes including
higher mindfulness, self-perceived productivity, and sleep quality.
These findings provide causal evidence that checking email less
frequently can directly decrease stress, with potential downstream
benefits for well-being.
6.1. Implications and limitations
In line with recent recommendations to assess multiple specific
components of well-being (Kashdan et al., 2008), we included a
broad array of measures in our study. Given this exploratory
approach, it is possible that the significant effects we observed
on stress are simply an artifact of the large number of statistical
tests we conducted. The present study, therefore, should be seen
as laying the groundwork for future confirmatory research. That
said, previous correlational research has also shown that the way
people handle email is related to stress rather than other
components of well-being (e.g., Jerejian et al., 2013; Mano &
Mesch, 2010). The present findings dovetail with this existing work
in suggesting that checking email less often primarily affects stress,
rather than other components of well-being, such as people’s sense
of meaning in life. In short, our pattern of findings suggest that
while checking email less frequently may help to alleviate stress,
changing how frequently people check email is by no means a
panacea for improving well-being.
Over time, however, it is conceivable that reduced levels of
stress could eventually produce consequences for well-being more
broadly. Indeed, a meta-analysis of forty-eight experimental stud-
ies (n= 3736) showed that stress reduction interventions have an
impact on a range of outcomes including anxiety, symptoms of
depression, and overall perceived quality of work life (van der
Klink, Blonk, Schene, & van Dijk, 2001). Consistent with this
research, we found that stress was associated with an overall
poorer well-being in the course of our experiment. Thus, given that
checking email less frequently can reduce stress in the course of a
week, the benefits for other aspects of well-being might emerge
over time.
The broader benefits of reducing the frequency of checking
email on well-being might also be more likely to materialize if
changes were made at the organizational level, rather than just
the individual level. In our study, we manipulated participants’
behavior, but had no control over the expectations of those around
them. Indeed, recent research suggests that some people feel
stressed by email in part because others expect them to reply
quickly (e.g., Gillespie, Walsh, Winefields, Dua, & Stough, 2001).
Organizations might be able to maximize workers’ well-being by
introducing interventions at a company-wide or team-wide level,
thereby altering co-workers’ expectations.
Another potential limitation of the present research is that we
did not include a control condition in which participants com-
pleted our measures without being asked to alter their email usage
patterns. At baseline, however, participants in our study reported
checking email roughly the same number of times (15) as people
in the unlimited email condition (13), but significantly more times
than people in the limited email condition (5). Thus, being
instructed to check email as frequently as possible did not increase
the number of times people checked email as compared to
baseline, whereas being instructed to limit checking email reduced
the number of times people checked email as compared to
baseline. Our findings suggest, therefore, that checking email less
frequently than normal reduces stress rather than that checking
email more frequently than normal increases stress.
Of course, because our measures of frequency were based on
self-reports, the particular values participants reported should be
interpreted with caution. For the purposes of the present experi-
mental research, however, we were not interested in estimating
the exact number of times people checked their email, but rather
in inducing an overall measurable difference in behavior across
226 K. Kushlev, E.W. Dunn / Computers in Human Behavior 43 (2015) 220–228
the two experimental conditions. For this purpose, our measures
indicate a clear reduction of the number of times people checked
their email in the limited email condition as compared to baseline
and the unlimited email condition.
More broadly, although the effects we observed did not depend
on whether participants were students or community members,
our reliance on a convenience sample raises important issues of
generalizability. In particular, given that we intentionally recruited
heavy email users who had some flexibility in the way they man-
aged email, our intervention might be unlikely to reduce stress
among individuals who receive little email or have no choice about
how frequently they check email. In some professions, for example,
workers rely on constant updates to successfully do their job (e.g.,
stock brokers), such that attempting to check email less often
might be more stressful. Thus, future research with larger repre-
sentative samples should explore when and for whom limiting
email checking is beneficial vs. detrimental for well-being.
6.2. Coda
In conclusion, we employed careful experimental design to
demonstrate that a simple change in how people approach email
may reduce overall levels of stress on a typical day. Thus, by apply-
ing psychological theory and extending basic research on task
switching, we provided evidence for the potential toll on well-
being of frequent checking of email—one of the most common
sources of task switching for the modern information worker.
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E-mail is a prime tool of communication for most organizations and has, increasingly, become integrated into the organizational life of education, specifically during the recent move to online teaching due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Managing e-mail communication and usage brings challenges due to the associated downsides but these have only been investigated to a limited extent, if at all, within the school's workplace settings; necessitating a better understanding and a holistic view into this matter from teachers' perspectives as a specific group of e-mail users. This qualitative study, therefore, explores teachers' (N = 9) concerns and the difficulties they encounter in using work-based e-mail for regular communication in a private school in the United Arab Emirates and sheds light on the regulations exercised to manage these. Overall, thematic data analysis yielded two themes representing the downsides experienced and problems encountered, and how they are managed. Eight associated categories identified the following key downsides: E-mail overload; the obligation to check e-mails constantly; distraction; wasting and extending working time; e-mail misuse, as in the case of broadcasting violations; misunderstanding; the threatening impact of e-mail when used as evidence; and issues related to confidentiality. Practical implications and consequent future research concerning proactive e-mail practices in schools are discussed as part of the domain of educational technology and distance education, all of which will be of interest to a wider audience across other working sectors to impart a better understanding of what is still lacking and what improvements can be made, resulting in introducing new and more effective horizons for work-based communications.
... 2005). Dodatkowo, zbyt częste sprawdzanie poczty elektronicznej zwiększa poziom odczuwanego stresu i obniża nastrój (Kushlev, Dunn 2015). ...
... Analizując przedstawione wyniki, można także stwierdzić, że w tej grupie studentek nastąpiła znaczna wirtualizacja sposobu utrzymywania relacji interpersonalnych, co jest zgodne z wnioskami z badań dotyczących stopniowego przenoszenia życia człowieka na płaszczyznę online (Kemp 2019). Niemal połowa z nich cały czas sprawdza, czy nie otrzymała wiadomości lub odpisu, co może wiązać się z podwyższonym poziomem uogólnionego odczuwanego stresu (Kushlev, Dunn 2015) i działać jako poważny dystraktor podczas wykonywania innych czynności. Ponad 40% badanych odczuwa silną potrzebę sięgnięcia po telefon i niepokój, jeżeli przez jakiś czas z niego nie korzysta, a 31% reguluje nastrój za jego pomocą -sięgnięcie po telefon przynosi uspokojenie (44% badanych niemal cały czas trzyma telefon w ręce, niezależnie, czy akurat rozmawiają, czy nie) -są to zachowania należące do grupy symptomów uzależnienia (Dodziuk, Kapler 2007). ...
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Subject competitions provide valuable support to the teaching / learning process. Particular attention should be paid to competitions recommended by pedagogical supervision bodies, which should be very popular, both among students and teachers. The aim of the article was to investigate trends in the participation in Polish competition miniLogia. The contest is organized for children from the Mazovian primary schools and is aimed at revealing and developing computing talents, and raising the level of informatics education. The quantitative research exploited data from the thirteen years, from school year 2006/2007 to 2018/2019. In particular, the results obtained by 850 students in the third level of each year of the competition were analysed. The results show the decreasing participation of students, especially from the towns outside Warsaw. There is also an increasing share of non-public school students among finalists. The proportion of girls who advance to the highest level of the competition is still significantly lower than the corresponding percentage of boys. Moreover, the results show male participants still score higher than girls. The findings indicate the need for change in Polish computing education on the primary level and suggest a direction for future research.
... The perceived need to immediately replying to electronic messages creates this work-related stressor (Gillespie et al., 2001). Checking email less frequently was found to reduce workplace stress as the employee decided that immediacy is not needed (Kushlev & Dunn 2015). People who see technology as a necessity they cannot live without, rather than a tool for efficiency and effectiveness, are usually the individuals who struggle with stress the most (Garfin, 2020 (DeVita, 2015). ...
... Employees frequently check their email and text messages, which results in switching between tasks every time they receive notifications. Kushlev and Dunn (2015) explored whether only checking messages at specific times a day positively impacted the well-being of employees compared to those who checked and responded continuously throughout the day. Employees were more productive when they scheduled times to check email, social media, and text rather than continuously throughout the day. ...
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During the second week of March 2020, work shifted from the county extension office to home during the Coronavirus pandemic. During COVID-19, workers were shifted into new all-digital work environments without establishing boundaries that melded the work and home environment into one (Katsabian, 2020). While this shift to remote work was possible due to technology, work-life boundaries became even blurrier. Professionals who do not have good boundaries find themselves always connected to both spheres of work and home because of their digital devices (Richardson & Rothstein, 2008). OSU Extension professionals not only made the switch to remote work from home, but they had to adjust to an all-digital 4-H program delivery at the same time. By rapidly shifting to digital work, 4-H professionals had to adapt to this change. The Change Style Indicator (Musselwhite & Ingraham, 1998) assessment classifies a person as a Conserver, Pragmatist, or Originator. Conservers prefer gradual change. Pragmatists desire change that serves a function. Originators are the most adept to change and favor quicker, more expansive change. These preferences to change would have impacted their approach to dealing with the pandemic and remote work. This study explored the adaptation of county-based OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development professionals to an all-digital environment during the virtual work period of COVID-19. Specific objectives included: (a) to describe the population by their Change Style Preferences, (b) to describe the adaptations to the all-digital work environment, (c) to describe the types of digital tools used, (d) to describe the types of digital skills learned, (e) to describe the types of digital youth development programming implemented, to describe the types of digital youth development strategies generated, and (f) to explore these selected variables (a-e) and their relationship to the Change Style Preferences. Data were gathered in two parts. The Change Style Indicator assessment was used to sort how each employee ordered along the change preference scale in part one. A follow-up survey assessed adaptations to remote work, digital tools, skills, programs, and strategies used by staff during the all-digital period. The population of 98 Ohio 4-H professionals completed both parts of the survey. There were several key findings found during the remote work period during COVID-19. Over half of the population had a Change Style Preference of a Conserver. Change Style Preferences had little or no relationships with how 4-H professionals adapted to this all-digital environment. Colleagues indicated that they depended upon each other for support. Almost all of the 4-H professionals used time during the spring to learn new skills or improve existing skills. Staff also waited to alter 4-H programming due to the constant changes related to the pandemic. A majority of the respondents indicated that they could reach new youth audiences and collaborate with other colleagues because of remote work. Ohio 4-H professionals would continue using digital youth development strategies beyond the pandemic. This research played a unique role in capturing an all-digital 4-H programming period when there was no in-person programming or access to the physical office. The shift to a digital-only environment was one of the most significant changes to the work environment for Ohio 4-H Professionals and around the world. The focus on this period does not limit future research opportunities. Technology does not go away in the future, as new digital innovations will replace the present ones.
... Besides social media, IM, and online surfing, Kay, Benzimra, and Li [30] observed another significant type of interruption: 41% of students regularly used mobile devices during class for emailing. In 2015, email checking seemed to be one of the most common activities [55]. Other types of interruptions include shopping, checking sport scores [56], reading the news, watching videos, and chatting [15]. ...
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Using various digital devices, and being faced with digital interruptions is a given for students not only in traditional university classes but also in blended learning courses. Hence, this study (N = 201) at an Austrian university of applied sciences investigated students’ perceptions of digital device use and the digital interruptions that they face during webinars and on-campus sessions. Results show that students primarily use the same types of digital devices during webinars and on-campus sessions, i.e., computers for course-related (CR) activities, and smartphones for non-course-related (NCR) activities. Results further indicate that while the majority of students are aware of the interruptive impact that NCR activities have on their learning, the effect on others seems to be a blind spot. The reasons for NCR activities are manifold. Moreover, results suggest that students have difficulties in assessing the actual time spent on NCR activities during webinars.
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Individuals can improve their task performance by using information and communications technology (ICT). However, individuals who use ICT may also suffer from negative outcomes, such as burnout and anxiety, which lead to poorer performance and well-being. While researchers have studied the positive outcomes of ICT use in the aggregate, the same has not been done for negative outcomes. This study uses a meta-analysis to examine the relationship between ICT use and negative outcomes, and the influence of job autonomy, or the level of discretion an individual has in conducting his/her job, on ICT use and the negative outcomes of ICT use. Job autonomy is relevant because a higher level of job autonomy allows individuals to decide how, how often, and when they will use ICT for their work. Doing so will enable them to realize the positive and negative impacts of the different technologies and thus, choose the ones that lead to the optimal level of trade-offs for themselves. The results of the meta-analysis revealed that autonomy and job control were positively associated with ICT use and diminished the negative impacts of ICT use.
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Growing and even excessive use of digital technology has unquestionably fuelled demand for digital devices and online services leading to a wide range of societal and environmental impacts. In sustainability terms, ICT as a whole is estimated to produce up to nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As presumed responsible innovators, the HCI community should now consider design strategies that will reduce use and demand for digital technology for the good of both its users and the planet—strategies perhaps even seen as retrogressive in an era where digital technology is constantly implicated in innovation and economic growth. Prior work has noted the potential to design ‘more moderate’ interactions for sustainability, simultaneously addressing negative societal impacts on users’ wellbeing, relationships, productivity at work, and privacy. In this paper, we explore how we may design intentionally moderate digital interactions that retain our participants’ ‘more meaningful’ experiences. We report on the outcomes of two design workshops to uncover experiences of meaningful device and service use, to inform practical designs for ‘moderate and meaningful’ interaction. From this, we offer design recommendations that aim to address the multiple negative impacts that digital technology can create, and discuss the possible barriers to these designs.
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The time we each spend using smartphones is increasing. So is the extent of discussions on whether that time is well spent and whether it results in positive experiences and ultimately improves well-being. However, research on this question rarely links the time spent on smartphones, the specific applications used, the motivation for using them and their effects on well-being. We had 70 participants compare experiences with a frequently used smartphone application and an occasionally used one. The participants used the Screen Time feature of the iPhone to select the applications and provided qualitative and quantitative data on their use of the applications. The findings show that the experience of pragmatic and hedonic value differs between the two application types, as does the experience of regret. The motivation for using the applications also in'uences whether the time is experienced as well spent. We use these findings to nuance the general discussion of smartphone usage and well-being.
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Loving technological gadgets could be considered an expression of material values, and thereby a behavior that is associated with reduced well-being. In two studies (N = 926, American and Canadian adults), we investigate whether gadget loving is associated with indicators of well-being that, to date, have gone undocumented by research. Results from a pilot study show that although people, overall, perceive technological gadgets to be materialistic purchases (compared to all tested product categories) and consumers of these products to be materialistic people (particularly when gadgets are purchased for novelty vs. utility), individual differences in gadget loving are most associated with learning motives rather than motives associated with materialism (e.g., status signaling). Results from the main study (a cross-sectional survey wherein participants completed individual difference measures of gadget loving, orientation-to-happiness, competence, and personal growth) indicate that (1) gadget loving interacts with an orientation-to-engagement (but not pleasure) to relate to greater personal growth, and (2) this interaction is explained by increases in competence. These results contravene the assumption that gadget loving is solely a manifestation of materialism.
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This review organizes a variety of phenomena related to emotional self-report. In doing so, the authors offer an accessibility model that specifies the types of factors that contribute to emotional self-reports under different reporting conditions. One important distinction is between emotion, which is episodic, experiential, and contextual, and beliefs about emotion, which are semantic, conceptual, and decontextualized. This distinction is important in understanding the discrepancies that often occur when people are asked to report on feelings they are currently experiencing versus those that they are not currently experiencing. The accessibility model provides an organizing framework for understanding self-reports of emotion and suggests some new directions for research.
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Acquiring greater financial resources before having children seems like an intuitive strategy for people to en-hance their well-being during parenthood. However, research suggests that affluence may activate an agentic orientation, propelling people to pursue personal goals and independence from others, creating a conflict with the communal nature of parenting. Coherence between one's goals and actions has been theorized to be essential for the experience of meaning in life. Thus, we hypothesized that affluence would be associated with a diminished sense of meaning during childcare. In Study 1, using the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM), we found that socioeconomic status (SES) was negatively related to the average sense of meaning parents reported across episodes of the day when they were taking care of their children. In Study 2, a reminder of wealth produced a parallel effect; when parents were exposed to a photograph of money, they reported a lower sense of meaning in life while spending time with their kids at a children's festival. These findings contribute to our understanding of the relationship between wealth and well-being by showing that affluence can compromise a central subjective benefit of parenting—a sense of meaning in life.
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When does giving lead to happiness? Here, we present two studies demonstrating that the emotional benefits of spending money on others (prosocial spending) are unleashed when givers are aware of their positive impact. In Study 1, an experiment using real charitable appeals, giving more money to charity led to higher levels of happiness only when participants gave to causes that explained how these funds are used to make a difference in the life of a recipient. In Study 2, participants were asked to reflect upon a time they spent money on themselves or on others in a way that either had a positive impact or had no impact. Participants who recalled a time they spent on others that had a positive impact were happiest. Together, these results suggest that highlighting the impact of prosocial spending can increase the emotional rewards of giving.
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This is the first book to introduce the new statistics—effect sizes, confidence intervals, and meta-analysis-in an accessible way. It is chock full of practical examples and tips on how to analyze and report research results using these techniques. The book is invaluable to readers interested in meeting the new APA Publication Manual guidelines by adopting the new statistics—which are more informative than null hypothesis significance testing, and becoming widely used in many disciplines. This highly accessible book is intended as the core text for any course that emphasizes the new statistics, or as a supplementary text for graduate and/or advanced undergraduate courses in statistics and research methods in departments of psychology, education, human development, nursing, and natural, social, and life sciences. Researchers and practitioners interested in understanding the new statistics, and future published research, will also appreciate this book. A basic familiarity with introductory statistics
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The present study explored the contribution of email volume, email management and worry in predicting email stress among a sample of Australian academics. The sample comprised 114 academic staff from Curtin University in Perth, Australia. An online survey was conducted to gather data on the target variables. A moderated hierarchical regression indicated that the combined model accounted for a significant 11.90% of the variance in email stress (p = .008, f2 = .135). Worry individually accounted for a significant proportion of the variance (p = .010, f2 = .06, 95% CI [.028, .202]). Email volume also significantly predicted email stress (p = .00, f2 = .057, 95% CI [.011, .079]). Email management did not moderate the email volume and stress relationship. The findings suggest that email stress is impacting upon academic teaching staff and that research on mitigating this stress needs to be undertaken.
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With the rapid and decisive impact electronic communication has had on our lives in general, and the work place in particular, notably e-mail as the preferred communication medium, this literature review paper examines the available evidence of its potential negative effects. Even though the benefits of e-mail communication for individuals and organisations are well noted, it is argued that the particular characteristics of electronic mail and communication may have an adverse impact upon well-being, stress and productivity. E-mail may act as a stress conduit but is also in itself a potential stressor. It may impair productivity too due to its communication characteristics, affecting key operational aspects such a decision making and team cohesion; it may escalate disputes, facilitate harassment and encourage litigation. We present a framework delineating antecedents and potential personal and organisational outcomes and conclude with an outline agenda for further research as a first step in devel...