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The Costs of Information Overload

As part of my larger project to investigate the issue of information and email overload, I have been conducting a rather large literature review of current research that has been done on it. While doing so, I’ve gathered several very interesting quotes and figures about the costs of information overload, and the negative effects it has on us.

Here are some of the highlights, or lowlights, depending on how you look at it (emphasis added):

“In fact, research conducted…shows that the problem cost the U.S. economy around $997 billion in 2010.”
– Jonathan Spira, 2011. Information Overload: None Are Immune. Information Management, 21(5), 32.

“Still, a survey of 2,300 Intel employees revealed that people judge nearly one-third of the messages they receive to be unnecessary. Given that those same employees spend about two hours a day processing e-mail (employees surveyed received an average of 350 messages a week, executives up to 300 a day), a serious amount of time is clearly being wasted.”
“But one calculation by Nathan Zeldes and two other researchers put Intel’s annual cost of reduced efficiency, in the form of time lost to handling unnecessary e-mail and recovering from information interruptions, at nearly $1 billion.”
“A study by Microsoſt researchers tracking the e-mail habits of coworkers found that once their work had been interrupted by an e-mail notifi cation, people took, on average, 24 minutes to return to the suspended task.”
– Paul Hemp. (2009). Death by information overload. Harvard Business Review, 87(9), 83–89. Harvard Business School Publication Corp.

“Stressed IT professionals are linked to issues of organizational commitment, turnover intentions, and work exhaustion.”
“Two recent studies have emphasized the importance of technostress by studying the impacts of technostress. These studies have found that individuals experiencing technostress have lower productivity and job satisfaction, and decreased commitment to the organization.”
– Ayyagari, R., Grover, V., & Purvis, R. (2011). Technostress: Technological Antecedents and Implications. MIS Quarterly, 35(4), 831-858.

So let’s review. Information overload costs the US economy nearly an estimated $1 trillion dollars, and one company alone $1 billion dollars. As Mr. Spira points out, if a company were to recognize that cost for what it is and write it off their books, it is such a substantial amount that it would require disclosure to the SEC and shareholders. Email overload results in a massive amount of wasted time, and it can take the average worker up to twenty-four minutes to return to full productivity after answering emails. Finally, information overload leads to “technostress”, which can cause workers to have decreased job satisfaction, lower productivity, and higher turnover. Ouch!

This is a material problem that we are facing today. For comparison, it is estimated that spam caused a $20 billion drag on the US economy in 2010— pittance compared to the cost estimated of IO. Companies have spent fortunes coming up with ways to combat spam. Now an incentive exists to make a similar investment battling the even more serious problem of information and email overload.

Published inEmail Research

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