Culture, Entertainment, Interview, Manchester

Email 24/7: Agile working or electronic leash? A conversation with Marc Jones

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Manchester Art Gallery

By Sam Peckett


Earlier this week, the Festival of Social Science visited Manchester Art Gallery to discuss how checking work emails outside of working hours affects our health, well-being and productivity.

Organiser Marc Jones, Professor of Psychology at MMU, sat down with aAh! Magazine to discuss his research on the topic and talk us through the festival itself.

“The festival is great because it allows us to take out our research to anyone who has a vague bit of interest in it. The work around email is an area of research I am pursuing at the moment. We were doing some consultancy about how to manage stress and people were saying it’s not that the work is any harder, it’s that the pace of work is quicker and that we’re getting less time to rest and recover.”

A significant impact of being able to check work emails 24/7 is that is doesn’t allow us time to ‘switch off’, something which is extremely important for our productivity.

“We might get emails through that stress us, that makes us feel a bit negative or make us feel we need to deal with that now at a time we should be relaxing. We’re just interested to see what the potential consequences of that are and how we can balance it.”

So why do we feel the need to check emails even when clocked off? Marc says it’s a complex issue, and there isn’t just one answer.

“I think one of them might be that it’s exciting. Many of us love our job, we have a fascination with what we do, so we get positive reinforcement in terms of checking our email. Sometimes there might be unspoken cultural norms where it’s expected that you’re contactable and responding. Maybe people are trying to impress their boss. We always tend to prioritise the short term hit of clearing the emails.”

Research in economics has suggested that we’re bad at prioritising the long-term and instead focus on things that have an immediate benefit.

“I understand that in the long-term it’s good that I rest and recover, but I’ll deal with an immediate thing now and rest tomorrow. But of course tomorrow never comes because there are always other emails coming in! We’re bad at making those judgements regarding the immediate versus the long-term.”

It isn’t all bad, though. Marc’s event ‘24/7 Emails: Agile Working or Electronic Leash?’ discussed the positive effects that mobile emails bring to being able to work flexibly.

“Some people like to feel on top of their work and the idea that they have something that is constantly filling up that they’re not able to deal with might be a stressor. So the way we live our lives, it allows us to work in a flexible manner around childcare, around work travel – that’s a positive thing.”

So where does Marc sit? Agile working or electronic leash?

“That’s a good question! We say we always research things we’re interested in. I think I’m personally recognising that I think a more efficient way of working is to work agile but not have it as an electronic leash. Something is recognising how tempted you are to check your emails and that sometimes it may be better to just remove the emails from my phone. It’s certainly great to do it sometimes but sometimes it’s hard to switch off.  Sometimes that’s good, other times it’s not so good.”

The Festival of Social Science runs until November 10th. For more information on the events taking place and how to book tickets, visit www.esrcmanchesterfest.ac.uk

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Sam Peckett

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