Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/06/15/five_years_ago/

Emails damage your health

15 June 1999

By Team Register

Posted in Media, 15th June 2004 12:01 GMT

It was five years ago today... Continuing this week's loose theme of the detrimental effect email has had on society since the first electronic message came thundering down the phone lines way back when it was all fields round here, we are reminded of a 1999 warning that if we didn't lighten up on the mass communication, we'd all be dead within as year. Or at the very least in a mental institution:

Emails damage your health

By Linda Harrison
Published Tuesday 15th June 1999 17:33 GMT

Email and phone messages damage health and make staff tired and less efficient, according to a report by top psychologists. Just four phone calls or emails an hour increased heart rate levels, the study of office staff in Holland and Russia found.

Although workers speeded up their other tasks to compensate for these distractions, many skipped more menial, but necessary, tasks. This could lead to important safety checks being missed in certain work places. Constant interruptions were also detrimental to health. Staff had raised heartbeats and felt less cheerful and easygoing, according to today’s Daily Mail.

Dutch professor Dr Fred Zijlstra, in charge of the report, said: "These daily hassles have more effect than we realise. "On a superficial level, their moods were affected by interruptions. They were less happy and less optimistic. But these things are an indication of fatigue." Dr Zijlstra added: "There was an effect every time their phone rang, but also we saw a general change towards them having a higher heart rate."

70 volunteers were monitored in the experiments. They were given text-editing tasks and interrupted by phone calls, increasing to around four per hour. Each call asked them to do an extra task, increasing their workload. The volunteers then hurried to complete their main work, but ignored day-to-day necessities such as checking the ink in printers or paper in fax machines. Dr Zijlstra said this could have serious repercussions in certain work places where safety checks were vital.


What the Daily Mail has failed to recognise here that even the thought of work makes your average person "tired and less efficient" as well as "less happy and less optimistic". No email tsunamis or ringing phones required.

Dr Zijlstra does, however, make one good point: who can ever forget the serious repercussions of one employee's failure to check the printer ink. The grieving relatives of the victims of the subsequent tragedy are still seeking answers to this day. So remember: don't get distracted, stay calm, and check the fax machine paper at regular intervals. Your colleagues' lives may depend on it. ®