Relax, uni says, you haven t got email
Celia Hammond, second from right, with Leigh Dawson, Shelley Mason and Julian Smith. Picture: John Mokrzycki, The West Australian

Notre Dame University is fighting the spread of "digital stress" by urging staff to switch off their email for one morning a week and talk to each other instead.

Vice-chancellor Celia Hammond told staff in three States an email-free trial would start next week to combat the "increasing reliance and dependence on electronic communication".

She said that apart from being distracting and time-consuming, emails had a higher likelihood of being misinterpreted because they were not accompanied by eye contact, body language or facial communication. This had contributed to a 100 per cent increase in low-level grievance complaints among staff in the past five years.

Professor Hammond said she wanted to introduce a "compulsory switch-off" for the whole system for three hours a week, but changed to a voluntary 2½ hours every Wednesday after some staff said that would be too restrictive.

She hoped the trial would remind people to think before they wrote, pause before hitting "reply" and to pick up the phone or talk to someone face to face. Staff would be surveyed at the end of the year to see if the trial affected their work habits.

The term "digital stress" has been coined to refer to information overload caused by too much multi-tasking on digital devices.

Results of a recent US study, during which heart monitors were used on computers users, found that those who read email changed their screens twice as often.

These frequent interruptions put their bodies in a continuous "high-alert" state, which can lead to the release of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.

Hannah Fitzhardinge, a consultant and executive coach at Integral Development, which provides advice on organisational culture, said she advised increasing face-to-face communication.

"The message is 7 per cent words, 55 per cent tone and 38 per cent body language," she said. "In an email you really only get the words. And if you get tone, it can often be misread." There was a trend towards email-free days in the US, she said.

The West Australian

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