Firms hope tactic ups productivity



If your employer banned the use of e-mail for a day, would you find it decreased your stress or added to it?


« Some people like the freedom of e-mail and it can be very difficult for people who like structure to suddenly be told, ‘You can’t do that.’ »


Forget casual Fridays —these days, some companies are trying to help employees relieve stress, bond with co-workers and become more productive by instead having e-mail-free days.

Electronic communication can pile up so quickly and guzzle so much attention and time that the idea of banning it even for just one day per week is being embraced by a larger number of companies, such as international mega-firm Intel.

In a recent BBC story, an Intel executive suggested the e-mail-free day initiative came out of frustration from seeing engineers seated just metres apart sending each other e-mails instead of just standing up to talk.

Dr. Alexandra Gellman, an executive coach in Toronto, admits that banning e-mails for a day seems like an attractive option, as it can save employees and companies a lot of time, money and headaches while also promoting face-to-face interaction among the work staff.

“Language is not just written, like in an e-mail, it’s also body language and verbal cues, so meeting in person or even just on the phone can sometimes be more productive.

“E-mail is also a time stealer — people are always checking it, checking it, hoping that something is going to come in,” Gellman said.

Gellman warns though that blindly instituting a no-e-mail policy could backfire if it slows down productivity and raises stress levels for employees who not only rely on e-mail communication, but actually prefer it.

“People process information differently and it’s individual to the person how they collect information and communicate. Some people like the freedom of e-mail and it can be very difficult for people who like structure to suddenly be told, ‘You can’t do that,’” Gellman said.

For others, e-mail can be a convenient way to compose their thoughts before trying to communicate something important or complex, since not everyone can perform when put on the spot.

“There are simply people who think very quickly on their feet and there are those who prefer to be told what you’re going to talk about in advance,” Gellman said.

A much better strategy she advises is to find out from employees what each of their preferred methods of communication are and then offer them a choice tailored to their own personal needs.

“If you learn how your people communicate, you can reduce their stress by catering their communication to their preferred method, not just by taking away one of their avenues of communication,” Gellman said.

“What can be stressful for one person could actually be a walk in the park for someone else.”