The kind of mood or emotional state we find ourselves in, during working hours, has a very direct effect with the quality of work we produce. This is a fact that very few people will contest. And if our work involves dealing directly with customers, then our emotions become a part of what we are offering for sale. Even if you are an alien who has just been visiting this planet for just a few weeks, you will know that a stressed-out customer-facing staff makes for a very poor service provider.
Many people are not too good at keeping their emotions to themselves. Like gas trapped in a receptacle will eventually find a way out, emotions will eventually seep out. It may take days. It may take weeks or even years but eventually, the body must get rid of the pent-up emotion.
In my experience, there are two ways negative emotions will get out. On the one hand, the emotions will get out slowly, day by day, week by week. Front line employees in this mode will let out their stress on customers on a daily basis. These are the individuals who become legends for offering poor customer service in their companies. They will regularly lash out at customers and colleagues alike.
On the other hand, the emotions may build up for months on end without showing any sign. Then out of the blue, the emotions will just blow up—without warning. I always visualise these situations as watching a calm ocean and then out of the blues, a whale comes to the surface to blow a large spout. The only difference is that whereas it is a great sight to watch whales spouting, same cannot be said of an overly-stressed individual blowing steam.
With such an importance, one would expect that businesses would make it a priority to constantly reduce the stress levels of its employees. Interestingly, this does not seem to be the case. Not many organisations even consider stress reduction as a priority. Who in the organisation’s set up is responsible for ensuring that employees are always in the best of shapes emotionally? With such an importance, why do organisations not have departments or units responsible for stress reduction? Or is that part of the job of the Human Resource Department?
Many factors contribute stress on the job. Tight deadlines, fear of being laid off and work overload are a few of the causes. It has even been found that even boring work can also cause stress for employees. For me, issues like not having the right tools and equipment to do one’s job as well as lack of management support can also be major stressors at work. One thing about all these stress causers mentioned here is that they are all of the obvious kind. One does not need to be a psychologist before being made aware that these factors cause stress.
However, there are other causes of stress that are not so obvious. One of the not-so-obvious causes of stress is right within our reach, literally. It is goes without saying that we live in a generation that is addicted to its mobile phone. I recently asked a group of young men and women what the first was that they did when they woke up in the morning and overwhelmingly 100% of them confessed that they reach for their phones.
With the phones in hand, the next thing they will do is to either visit any one of the many social media sites or to check their emails. I really did not need those young people telling me that our generation is too crazy about those mini-computers by our bedsides. I believe I am also one of those addicts.
Social media is the number one addiction with Facebook and Facebook Messenger way ahead of the pack. Instagram follows closely on the heels of Facebook Messenger, with Twitter a distant 4th on the league table of the most visited social media sites. In August 2017, a study published on The Next Web (www.thenextweb.com) stated that there are 3.028 billion active social media users around the world which is more than 40% of the current global population.
Studies after studies have proven that too much of social media is bad for our health. As a matter of fact, a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health clearly stated that it was very possible for an individual to suffer from ‘Facebook Addiction Disorder’. The researchers, from the Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom went through a number of previous studies and enumerated some characteristics displayed by addicts. It was found that those same characteristics were displayed by individuals who used Facebook excessively.
There was an article published in August 2013 that indicated that the more people used Facebook, the sadder they actually become. Ironically, there was another study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in July 2017 which stated that the more people used Facebook, the more they felt socially isolated.
I am sure we could have managed the situation if researchers had claimed that only social media usage is addictive. Unfortunately, researchers also claim that an excessive addiction to even our emails has been found to be detrimental to our health. For this particular write-up therefore, our concentration is on how our perchance to constantly check our emails affects our lives.
One may ask what the big deal is with checking one’s email constantly and how it affects one’s performance on the job, especially when it comes to dealing with customers. Apparently, it is a big deal.
According to the Email Statistics Report 2017-2021 published in February 2017 by the Radicati Group of the USA,
“In 2017, the total number of business and consumer emails sent and received per day will reach 269 billion, and is expected to continue to grow at an average annual rate of 4.4% over the next four years, reaching 319.6 billion by the end of 2021.”
In February 2015, the Radicati Group reported that “The average office worker now sends or receives 121 emails a day”. The company also added that email users worldwide reach roughly 4.3 billion in 2015. All these go to prove that emails are very much a part of our lives. They have become so much a part of our daily work lives that one cannot imagine going to work without checking one’s emails. So if emails are so important, why the fuss?
One of the major reasons is that, in this day and age where everything is on fast forward, people are expected to respond to their emails as soon as possible. This puts lots of pressure on employees as they have to combine whatever they are doing with responding to mails. Sometimes an email can interrupt from a task and take away precious time from that task. A study published on careerbuilder.com in June 2014 claimed that 23% of employees admitted that emailing was one of the leading obstacles to maximizing performance.
Another study published by the Association for Computing Machinery undertaken by Gloria Mark and Stephen Voida, both of the University of California, Irvine, as well as Armand V. Cardello of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier R, D & E Center gave some very interesting insights into the effects of email usage on the stress levels of employees.
The researchers cut off email usage for five workdays for 13 information workers of a large scientific research organisation in the United States. To gauge how this affected the workers, they strapped heart monitors to the chests of these workers and tracked their computer use. The stress levels of these employees were drastically reduced when they were cut off from email. The employees concentrated more on one task for longer periods of time. They multitasked less and worked more efficiently.
This research led me to ask a few questions. For instance, is it possible that our incessant usage of email is causing us more stress than we recognised and we are actually transferring that stress on to our customers? If this is true, what are some measures that organisations should take to ameliorate the situation?
I would not go as far as advocating a total ban on emails as was suggested by the Chief Executive of the France-based information technology services firm, Atos Origin in 2011. Some have even called for an Email Liberation. I however, believe for starters, people need to reduce the number of emails they receive on a daily basis. Reducing the clutter by unsubscribing to non-essential mails whilst leaving only the essentials are a great way to start getting off the email addiction.
Ours is always going to be a love-hate relationship with emails. On the one hand, we cannot live without them but on the other hand, it is causing us more stress than we bargained for. It is a real Catch 22 situation without any clear cut answers. Individuals and organisations must critically analyse their unique situations and come up with just the right dosage of email for consumption. Like many a drug just the right dosage can wonder for one’s health but just a little more and a full-blown addiction is just around the corner.
Post your questions, concerns and suggestions and also share your experiences as a customer on The Customer Experience Consortium – CXC Facebook page. @cxcghana