An email vacation may be good for your health

New research suggests that taking a five-day break from email, while on the job, results in less stress and greater focus.

Workers cut off from office email for five days exhibited more natural, variable heart rates, and toggled between screens less frequently than those with email access, according to new research out of the University of California, Irvine, and the US Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts.

Entitled "A pace not dictated by electrons", the study of 13 civilian employees at the army centre is, undoubtedly, small and the results, presented this week at a meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery in Austin, Texas, are only preliminary. Still, researchers say the findings were surprisingly consistent in favour of taking "email vacations".

"We were surprised by the results, because they didn't have to turn out this way," study co-author Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at UC Irvine, told HealthDay News. "It's possible that people might have been even more stressed not to have email, to feel like they were missing out on something, so we didn't expect that people would become significantly less stressed."

The 13 employees tested were made up of, roughly, half men and half women, and all held information-related jobs, including a chemical engineer, psychologist, biologist, food technologist and research administrator. Each participated in three days of heart rate monitoring, to establish baselines, before either forgoing email for five days or maintaining a normal email activity level.

Those who had normal email access were in a consistently "high-alert" state; they had constant heart rates and switched screens, on average, 37 times per hour. Those without email access exhibited more normal, variable heart rates, and switched screens only 18 times an hour, suggesting that they were both less stressed and more focused.

Mark also noted that those without email access were more likely to take short screen breaks and walk around, as well as communicate with co-workers in person. She says she'd like to study this further, including the effects that so-called email vacations might have on one's interpersonal skills.


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