An Australian study says that interpreting 'ambiguous emails' is just as stressful as receiving large volumes of messages.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland, has found that poorly written or complex emails, coupled with the expectation of an immediate reply, are a significant contributor to workplace stress and conflict.
"Complex and emotionally-driven emails may complicate the message and allow room for misinterpretation," News.com.au quoted study author and provisional psychologist Rowena Brown as saying.
"Our study found poorly crafted and complex emails can contribute to work-related stress, such as feeling overloaded as well as impacting on job satisfaction and working relationships," Brown added.
The study looked at 218 members of university staff who sent and received 30 emails daily on average - including spam.
Respondents reported that trying to decipher an "ambiguous email" could be just as stressful as having a flood of emails coming into the inbox.
"Poorly written emails can also create confusion and disagreements over work-related activities and responsibilities. Feeling stressed, overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted are other common strains caused by emails," Brown said.
The study also showed that the size of a worker's inbox is an indicator of his/her job satisfaction.
Paradoxically, respondents who received the most emails also reported increased job satisfaction and this was possibly because it allowed workers to feel "connected and important" at work.
"Email is a double-edged sword. We know that email can help employees to feel engaged with and connected to their work colleagues, however, the impact of a poor quality email, combined with the expectation to respond immediately, can create unnecessary stress." Brown said.
"Our research raises important issues for employers, who have a responsibility to train their staff in appropriate email etiquette," Brown added.
Brown will present the findings at the Australian Psychological Society's Eighth Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference, now underway in Sydney.