You've Got Mail, But Is It Important And/Or Urgent?: An Investigation into Employees' Perceptions of Email

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Lanctot, Andre Michael




This thesis presents three papers linked together by their investigation into two social/psychological predictors of email use: the end user's assessment regarding the importance and urgency of the email. The first paper presents a study designed to help us better understand the cues employees use to identify the two constructs of interest: important email and urgent email. The research takes an emic perspective and uses a qualitative research methodology. The study makes three significant contributions. First, knowledge workers define an email's importance by considering its salience as described in the stakeholder literature. More specifically, an important email comes from a stakeholder with power and/or pertains to an issue/stakeholder that has legitimacy. Second, knowledge workers evaluate an email's urgency in terms of its time-sensitivity and importance. Third, we found that context is critical to the email evaluation process.

The second paper reports on the development and validation of measures that can be used by researchers and practitioners to quantify the important email and urgent email constructs. Buss and Craik's Act Frequency Approach, which uses a mixed-methods "imposed etic-emic-derived etic" approach to scale development was used in this study. The important email and urgent email scales were both found to be reliable and valid measures.

The third paper is informed by Karasek's buffer hypothesis and investigates the relationship between email demands (i.e., objective: email volume and hours spent in email; social/psychological: important email and urgent email) and email strain (i.e. email overload). It is hypothesized that work control moderates the relationship between email demands and email overload. This paper also investigates the relationship between email overload and perceived stress. Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Modelling analysis confirmed that all four email demands predicted email overload and that email overload was a predictor of perceived stress. Control over work moderated the path between urgent email and email overload. This study contributes to the email and well-being literature by demonstrating that: email overload is a distinct type of role overload, social/psychological demands imposed by email should be investigated in the literature, and negative email outcomes can be mitigated by increased control over urgent email.


Business Administration - Management




Carleton University

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