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Workers struggle with e-mail angst

By Simon Hooper for CNN

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Many of us would prefer to receive an old fashioned letter.

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LONDON, England -- If, while reading this story, you feel a sudden uncontrollable impulse to click on your inbox, you may be suffering from "communications anxiety."

According to new research a quarter of British workers cannot bear to be away from their desks for more than an hour for fear of missing important emails or phone calls.

And 13 percent will not leave their desks even for 15 minutes because they are worried about mounting piles of communications demanding their immediate attention.

The survey, conducted by Royal Mail, also suggests that many workers feel unable to focus on their day-to-day work because of the distractions of emails and telephone calls.

Almost a third felt the level of communications they received intruded on their working day, and the same proportion felt their productivity would improve if they did not have to deal with email on a daily basis.

Just under half said that telephone calls interfered with the work routine, while 16 percent were distracted by face-to-face meetings and 13 percent by mobile phones.

Subjected to a steady bombardment of e-mails and phone calls, many employees admit they are struggling to cope.

In total 36 percent felt they had to respond to telephone calls or messages immediately, and 31 percent of e-mail users thought they should reply within an hour of receipt.

Mass communication

"The research highlights how in today's age of mass communication people are constantly feeling swamped, much of it unnecessary," said Tim Rivett, the Royal Mail's Head of Small Business.

"As a result it is increasingly difficult for businesses to cut through the communications clutter and get heard."

While e-mail is now the preferred medium of office communication, many of us would still prefer to receive an old fashioned letter.

Just two percent of respondents said they found letters intrusive, while the slower pace of the written word left workers with more time to consider their response without distraction.

Instead of feeling obliged to reply within minutes, more than half were happy to reply to a letter some time during the same day.

And 20 percent of letter senders said they were happy to wait up to a week for a response.

Letters were also found to have the longest "desk presence." While most e-mails and voice mails were deleted almost immediately, 60 percent said that letters were likely to remain on their desk for more than two weeks.

In research conducted in 2002, Royal Mail estimated that small businesses in Britain were losing more than $5.4 billion a year because of poor business communication.

"Ultimately effective communications not only increase productivity among employees but also have a positive impact on a company's bottom line," said Rivett.


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