The email as a stress factor for academics

The email as a stress factor for academics

Author: Franziska Thiele – University of Rostock, Germany

Corinna Líthje – University of Rostock

Although the email is an essential part of scholarly communication, it has gained little attention in scholarly communication research. Studies on organizational practice found that emails can be a distraction and contribute to a feeling of overload and stress (Barley et. al., 2011; Boswell & Olson-Buchanan, 2007; Chelsey, 2005; Mark et al., 2012). This paper wants to investigate, if the research findings from organizational labour can be expanded to the context of academic labour and identify if different academic status groups apply different coping strategies.

As its theoretical framework this work makes recourse to the field theory of Bourdieu (1992) and the mediatization approach by Krotz (2007), which says that technological media change influences human communication, interaction and social as well as cultural reality.

To answer the research questions 54 German scientists from different disciplines and academic status groups were interviewed in qualitative interviews.

Across disciplines the email was the most commonly used tool in mediated communication. It accelerated and facilitated international co-operations and helped to organize and structure work. The amount of emails as well as the time spend on them rose with the status of the interviewed person and contributed to a feeling of overload and stress, which was enhanced by using mobile media. But the structural power coming with a professor’s status gave them more possibilities to reduce email-induced stress (e.g. by outsourcing email-related tasks to secretaries) than post-docs had: “I have an office and they are always inside [my email] […] otherwise I would choke, I could not process them” (8044, professor).

The results show that the findings from organizational research can be expanded to academic labour. Though the email is of great relevance for scientific communication, it is also a disruptive factor and becomes more problematic with rising media mobility and rising status.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices