The Consequences of Information Overload

Posted in Best Practice Research Thoughts & Culture

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Remember when it was difficult for someone to interrupt you after hours or when you were in a meeting?

 

...Well, it’s safe to say that those days are over.

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While remote work promised us a brief reprieve from the day-to-day interruptions of co-workers walking up to our desks and distracting us from our current tasks, the alternative, as it turns out, can be much, much worse.

 

Before March 2020, few companies were using Slack or another inter-office communication platform...and then COVID reared its ugly head.

 

Now virtually every company uses an internal chat platform, and the message and meeting volumes have grown just as exponentially. 

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Microsoft Teams alone picked up 95 million additional users and 300,000 organizations in 2020 and they are just one of several options.

 

Between February and August 2020, there was a 55% increase in the number of calls and meetings per week on Teams. Over 2.7 billion meeting minutes are being logged per day, and the average time between a person’s first and last use of teams each day continues to increase.

 

It’s no wonder 62% of employees have used the term “burnt out” to describe their feelings about work in the past year.

 

...and it’s not just the volume of messages that’s the problem.

Since the pandemic began, twice as many employees began sending chats after hours, and there’s been a 69% increase in work-related messages sent between 5pm and midnight (with 51% of employees feeling pressured to answer these communications after hours or on weekends).

 

...and even when these messages are sent during work hours, almost two-thirds of employees (63%) say that communications from their organization often come at the wrong time (like when they’re in the middle of something else), so they quickly get buried under other priorities and add to the feelings of overwhelm.

 

What effect are all of these notifications having on our people?

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We didn’t know for sure, but we intended to find out.

 

To get the real scoop, we interviewed thousands of employees to understand how they’re feeling, what they’re struggling with, and how we could help them cope with our new ‘always on’ communication environment. (Can’t wait? You can get the full report here.)

 

The first thing we uncovered was the compounding feelings of overwhelm that these notifications were causing.

 

Notifications aren’t an instantaneous distraction.

“It’ll only take a minute.”

 

Nope. 

 

A poorly timed notification can derail an employee for 25 minutes as they have to mentally switch between tasks, and this productivity loss can add up throughout the course of an employee's day, reducing their work efficiency and accelerating feelings of burnout.

 

...and managers have it worse!

 

Almost two-thirds (61%) of managers receive 21 or more notifications in a day, compared to only 32% of entry-level workers. 

 

How can one effectively manage if they’re being pulled in a new direction at about every 23 minutes?

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The hidden costs of employee overwhelm.

We’d be remiss if we only considered the impact these distractions had on individual productivity. Our research found the effects ran much deeper -

 

46% of employees (and 55% of managers) said they needed nights and weekends to think strategically about their jobs because they are so overwhelmed during the workday, and 53% of employees (60% of managers) said information overload kept them from doing their job strategically.

 

We simply can’t focus on bigger, strategic goals if we’re constantly stuck in day-to-day execution mode.

 

Typically our managers are our best defense to help overwhelmed employees plan and prioritize their tasks, but how are they supposed to help when they feel just as overwhelmed themselves?

 

How can we help our people cope with this communications onslaught?

Enter: The People Activation Model.

 

Yep, the same model that works so well in driving meaningful employee action and engagement on your HR programs also works amazingly well in helping to reduce employee overwhelm, because it’s based on rock solid principles uncovered by the latest research and findings in behavioural psychology.

 

(Not familiar with the People Activation Model yet? No worries - We actually wrote the book on it.)

 

The model breaks down these volumes of research into 4 simple elements that will help your employees feel less overwhelmed and more in control.

 

Here are the 4 key elements to reducing employee burnout and overwhelm from Information overload:

 

Engagement

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when every message looks the same - 

 

How can someone possibly prioritize which tasks and messages should get the top priority when every single one comes in with a little red exclamation point?

 

The main principle of creating engaging communications is showing some personality and using a variety of different messaging mediums to make your messages stand out and help your people understand which tasks should take priority.

 

Make sure your communications are personalized and unique (e.g. use memes, pictures, and videos to help them get attention and cut through the clutter!) and be sure to include the “why” behind your requests.

 

Your people will appreciate the little breaks from the day that your messages provide, and they’ll be much more likely to interact positively with them.

 

Nudges

...Now wait a minute. Are we really talking about sending MORE notifications in a blog about information overwhelm?

 

Ok, nudges are notifications, but they’re different.

 

See, unlike typical mass HR emails and random messages, nudges are bite-sized and relevant communications, delivered at the right time, with the right information.

 

Remember, while 41% of employees said they weren’t completing necessary tasks because the notifications typically came at a bad time, 47% of employees said a timely reminder was the most helpful thing for them to remember to complete a necessary task (and 39% said it would help if the task was broken down into bite-sized, digestible steps).

 

When nudges are used effectively they actually reduce the cognitive load on your people by sending them only the relevant information they need to know right now.

 

Remember: Your people aren’t asking for more notifications. They’re asking for Nudges.

 

Ease 

You know what makes things harder? Making things harder.

 

It sounds ridiculous to say, but many of our legacy systems and platforms can unintentionally make things more difficult on our people than they need to be.

 

For example, whether it’s Slack, email, or text, each employee has their own preferences on which communication channel they like to use for each type of notification or task - Are your notifications tailored to each employee’s individual preferences, or are you only sending email blasts?

 

Removing unnecessary system logins by using a Single Sign On service, sending a direct link with our communications, or choosing tools that avoid logins altogether is another area where we can often add more ease to our people’s lives. (A full 43% of employees reported giving up on a task because they couldn’t remember a password or didn’t have access to the device where the password was saved!)

 

Every step you take to remove friction helps reduce the time it takes your employee to complete each task, which lets them make more progress on their meaningful tasks and further reduces their feelings of overwhelm.

 


Connection

Ever feel like you’re talking to everyone and no one at the same time?

 

That’s the definition of messaging overwhelm.

 

Engagement, Nudges, and Ease are great tools, but Connection can be the biggest motivator to helping your people cope with information overload and complete their most important tasks:

 

  • 82% of employees say they’re more motivated to work on a project/program when they feel close to the team, and
  • 84% of employees find it easier to do their best work when they feel close to the team they’re working with

 

...yet 69% of employees say they dont’ feel a very strong sense of connection to their co-workers (and those 2.7 billion minutes of meetings every day don’t seem to be helping).

 

As we mentioned earlier, Managers in particular have a profound impact on their employees’ motivation and ability to prioritize, so ensure that you’re helping your managers reduce their messaging overload so they can provide the appropriate care and guidance for their teams.

man and woman sitting in front of silver macbook

...Oh, one more thing.

The 4 tactics we covered are incredibly useful, but if you really want to help your employees feel more control over their day, you have to use them in the right way.

 

Yep. For these elements to work most effectively, you have to engage each element with your employees in mind. (We call this the Human-Centric wrapper.)

 

So put yourself in your people’s shoes by asking yourself questions like these, as you plan your messaging strategy:

 

  • What do your people’s workloads and schedules look like?
  • What messages are they currently receiving and at what frequency?
  • What do their typical messages, notifications and requests look like?
  • How many different systems and logins do your people currently have to use and remember?
  • How much information does your employee need at one time?
  • What actions could help prevent unnecessary distractions or breaks in their daily routines?
  • On which mediums do your employees like to receive notifications?

 

Remember, your employees are already feeling overwhelmed from having to manage remote and hybrid work environments, so show them that you’re working to see things from their perspective with thoughtful and helpful messaging and they will surely notice!

 

For the rest of the findings from our full research report - Click here.

 

Want to see results faster?

We got you.

 

We built our whole platform around this very psychology and the 4 elements of People Activation to allow you to build and deploy effective human-centric journeys from day one. 

 

Whether it’s onboarding, learning and development, change management, diversity and inclusion, or employee transitions, we’ve reimagined HR. 

 

Get a free demo today and find out why our customers love Enboarder as much as you’re about to!

⚡ Come join the People Activation Revolution ⚡