We are constantly bombarded with information, on our messaging services, by e-mail, on social networks, via collaborative tools, and from various sources: professional, private, institutional.
Our attention span, strained to the extreme, continues to decline over the years(1). And our productivity follows the same trend. This explains why advice to improve it flourishes on the Internet, constituting real click traps. These recommendations more often target employees than companies. Yet the latter should feel equally concerned and tackle the problem.
Our brain is not multitasking
A recent study on 2,000 employees(2) of the United Kingdom, led by Teleware, a telecommunications company, shed light on the causes of this drop in productivity. 36% of employees admit to wasting time at the office unable to find recent information: “Where did I see this?” Was it on Slack, in an email or text? “. 34% regret that forgetting information penalizes them with customers and suppliers.
Finally, 24% do not meet their deadlines because they miss important information or cannot remember it. The United Kingdom is now below the average of the G7 countries (the group of advanced economies), in terms of output per hour worked.
Fundamentally, information overload, so characteristic of our times, is, directly or indirectly, the cause of many ailments. Stress, anxiety, burnout and depression are painful for employees and costly for companies. Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley calls this phenomenon the “crisis of cognition.”(3) “: “Our brains have simply not kept pace with the dramatic and rapid changes in our environment – particularly the introduction and ubiquity of information technology. “ In a book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World(4), he explains that our brains are not designed to multitask.
Companies should put in place strategies to help their employees manage this crisis of cognition, and do digital detox one of their priorities. Here are some suggestions that have been applied in recent years.
1. Make emails less toxic
E-mails are arguably the most time-consuming and energy-intensive source of information overload. Over 300 billion emails are sent(5) every day, which occupy daily between four and six hours of a white collar’s working time. Their accumulation makes them toxic, in that they prevent those who receive them from doing their jobs.
In Germany, Volkswagen has decided to block emails that arrive outside of office hours : everyone remains free to write their emails whenever they want, but they are only sent during working hours. This principle may not be suitable for all businesses; there are other ways of conveying the idea that staff cannot be cut down and forced into mercy.
At Daimler, another German car manufacturer, it is believed that employees should have the right to make the most of their vacation(6) without fear of having their inbox full when they get home. They have at their disposal an automatic system that allows delete emails while they are away from the office.
We could also avoid long copies to recipients who are not directly affected by the subject of the email. Or use artificial intelligence tools like x.ai to stagger the messages and thus reduce the number of emails to be answered.
2. Impose detoxification rituals
These rituals should encourage concentrated work and protect the mental health of employees. They can include breaks away from the computer screen, yoga and meditation classes, or meetings without high-tech tools.
Adam Gazzaley considers these rituals essential for learning to manage the crisis of cognition. This is evidenced by the growing popularity of corporate meditation and yoga sessions.
Beyond tools and rituals, the most effective antidote to excess information remains corporate culture. Organizations with a healthy culture focused on work-life balance have significantly less need for digital detox strategies than others.
1. “Attention spans are getting shorter. Or are they? “, Rachel Ainsworth, Source Global Research, February 15, 2018. 2.” Information overload hitting employee productivity “, Steve Haworth, The HR Director, April 27, 2018. 3.” The Cognition Crisis “, Adam Gazzaley, July 9, 2018. 4 . “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World”, Adam Gazzaley, MIT Press, 2017. 5. “Email Statistics Report, 2018-2022”, Executive Summary, The Radicati Group Inc. 6. “This company has an ingenious way to free employees from email on vacation ”, Courtney Connley, CNBC, August 17, 2017.
Jérémy Clédat is co-founder of the start-up Welcome to the Jungle (WTJ). Laëtitia Vitaud is editor-in-chief for WTJ. This text is taken from their joint work “Welcome to the Jungle: 100 innovative ideas for recruiting talents and making them grow”, published by Vuibert editions, in May 2020, 256 pages, 27 euros.
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