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Information overload at work - dealing with high volumes of information conveyed by electronic media (e-mail, internet)

Project number: F 2373 Institution: Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) / Technische Universität Dresden Status: Completed Project

Description:

Information overload induced by digital media in the workplace is becoming more significant with the increasing digitalisation of the world of work. The strain this puts employees under can have various negative consequences. The aim of this project was therefore to investigate the causes, conditions, and impacts of information overload due to digital media in the workplace, and to elaborate approaches to work design that ensure it is dealt with adequately without making excessive demands on the individual.

For this purpose, various methodological procedures were applied in the workplace field studies that were carried out. In total, seven companies from different parts of the service sector, including administrative services, IT development and services, and research and development, took part in the project. Following a systematic literature review, wide-ranging field studies were conducted. Among them were an extensive interview study, a questionnaire study, a diary study, and participative workshops with representatives from the companies at which practical design approaches were devised.

The studies found that the experience of information overload induced by digital media was shaped by four fundamental factors: the quantity of information to be dealt with, the number of tasks that had to be carried out in response to that information, the quality of the information, and interruptions attributable to digital media. The impacts of information overload became evident in the various consequences of the strain employees were subjected to, both in mental fatigue, frustration and irritability, and in directly work-related behavioural patterns, such as rushing, skipping breaks, or a decline in work quality.
The workshops held with the participating companies identified various areas of action, off of which organisational and individual work design approaches were developed. These involved, for example, regulating flows of information, reducing the large number of task concurrencies, or restricting employee availability.

The project results made it clear that the drivers of information overload and their impacts were frequently rooted in the design of working tasks, work organisation, information design, or how employees themselves handled such information.
Furthermore, the results indicate implementation of measures that manage and/or reduce information overload to be of high relevance. This is the rationale behind another Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, BAuA) project, during which proposals for work design in settings affected by information overload will be drawn up. These proposals will be published in the form of a guidance document and evaluated with workplace field research.

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