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How communication tools can fuel burnout—and what to do about it


Think about the number of communication tools you use in a workday. In addition to checking email, you may be logging on to an instant messaging platform, as well as using a project management platform, content management system, or another collaboration platform. You probably are asking colleagues and clients whether they prefer phone calls or video chats. So it’s no wonder that when it comes to tracking down a document, or an exchange you had with your direct report last week, you find yourself searching your inbox, Slack DMs, and three different Google Docs.

All of this interaction is starting to get to us. A recent survey found that 75% of respondents agree that working from home has increased their sense of digital overload as messaging, emailing, and videoconferencing have become the primary means of communication. And 74% of workers polled say they now spend most of their day looking at a computer, tablet, or phone. And a 2015 study published in the Journal of Business Economics found that so-called techno-stressors can lead to reduced work satisfaction and burnout.

We know that too much digital communication can sap our productivity and ultimately lead to burnout. So, while that constant stream of information seems like it’s a nuisance, it could actually be hurting your organization, says Mary Lynn Carver, founder and CEO of MLC Strategy Advisors, a consulting firm specializing in communications and corporate affairs strategy. “Air traffic control of content and some hierarchy and strategy related to these channels is critical,” she says.

Putting such controls in place to deal with digital and information overload starts with a few key steps:


It’s a good idea to start with an audit of what your employees are using to communicate—and what’s working for them, Carver says. Do they need all of the features on each platform? Some software companies create bundled programs with many bells and whistles. Those can be overwhelming, she says, with some employees using features regularly and some not at all. Take a look at what your team is using to communicate and collaborate most effectively. You need to find out what’s going on in the “nooks and crannies of your organization,” she says.

Once you dig into the platforms your team is using, you might be surprised at what you find, says internal communications adviser Johnna Lacey. If you have an enterprise license for one tool and employees find they like something else, they may have adopted it on their own.

That’s a problem, Carver says, because suddenly, your data, proprietary information, and other communication may be shared in a platform your team has not vetted. Worse, if the employees using that tool don’t disclose that they are doing so, you have a silo of information only available to a few people. So, ask your team to come clean about what they’re using and why they find those tools effective. With such feedback, you can make good decisions about the tools to use going forward.


Once you create a shortlist of the tools you and/or your team needs, look at how they’re using them versus what the tool’s strengths are, Carver says. If you have people sharing design collaborations over IM, for example, you might need a more comprehensive tool to manage that function.

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