Procurement · 12 November 2015

Italian firm bans internal emails to see if it helps stress levels of staff

Employees said their main concern at work was having to wade through a heaving inbox of emails
Employees said their main concern at work was having to wade through a heaving inbox of emails

An Italian firm has told its staff to hold back on sending internal emails for a week to see if it has any impact on reducing stress levels.

According to a local website, La Provincia di Como, home textiles company Gabel, which is based in northern Como, commissioned an expert to interview its employees about what their main concerns were at work.

Many flagged the daunting task of sifting through an ever-expanding inbox as a particular burden during their working day. This prompted the company’s management to propose a solution, which was was communicated to staff via email, of course.

Managing director Emilio Colombo said: “Together we will begin the following experiment, which will take us back in time to when people talked more.”

The email free week will run until 13 November, with Colombo inviting staff “not to use email for internal communications (between colleagues at the same location), in favour of a more direct and immediate contact”.

The practice is company-wide, with Gabel president Michele Moltrasio even taking part too. Speaking to the BBC, he said it hadn’t been easy to put a stop to such an “ingrained” habit, even just for a week, but that employees had enjoyed the challenge.

“They are rediscovering the pleasure of meeting and talking rather than writing,” he said. “Even if from next week we all go back to using email, these days of experimentation are very worthwhile, to understand and rethink the methods of pace and working.”

A study carried out by the University of British Columbia last year, found that limiting email use during the day lowered people’s stress levels “significantly”.

Gabel isn’t the only company which has tried to shake up its approach to email in a bid to help reduce staff stress levels. Simply Business, which came top in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For (mid-sized category), was inspired by German firm Daimler to introduce a “Mail on Holiday” service, whereby all of an employee’s messages can be deleted if they’re on holiday.

Simply Business CEO Jason Stockwood said: “There’s this false economy where you work twice as hard the week before you leave, then check your emails while you’re away, and then have a load of extra work to catch up on when you get back. So nobody ends up feeling relaxed after a break.”

Google meanwhile, recently unveiled its new attempt at helping employees cut down on email. It launched Smart Reply which uses AI to help send responses for you. The programme pays attention to the way you communicate and over time manages to respond to certain emails based on your habits. Smart Reply will suggest some responses which you can select to edit before sending, or send as it is.

An example given was an email message asking “Do you have any documentation for how to use the new software?” with suggested replies including “I don’t, sorry”, “I will have to look for it”, and “I’ll send it to you”.

Bálint Miklós, a software engineer at Google, said: “For those emails that only need a quick response, it can take care of the thinking and save precious time spent typing. And for those emails that require a bit more thought, it gives you a jump start so you can respond right away.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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