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Workers Suffer from Information Overload, Study Suggests

October 26, 2010

Workers across the planet say they are overwhelmed by the volume of work-related information they have to consume and digest, and 62 percent say their work performance is suffering as a result, according to a study of 1,700 white-collar employees in the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Australia and South Africa by LexisNexis (News - Alert)

Almost 60 percent of workers have noticed a dramatic increase in information since the downturn in the world economy, with a good amount of that information being viewed as primarily useless.

"Workers across the globe are just about managing to keep their heads above water in a rising tide of information," said Michael Walsh, CEO of U.S. Legal Markets at LexisNexis. 

Half of all the workers in these countries believe they are near their breaking points with information, and just over half are demoralized by not being able to manage it all. In the United States, 92 percent of workers have to search for old e-mails every week.

In the global study, 49 percent of professionals reported feeling dejected and frustrated at being unable to manage all the information that comes their way at work and said that if the amount of information they receive continues to increase, over half (51 percent) believe they would soon reach a “breaking point” where they can’t handle any more.

Marc K. Peter, director of technology and business development at LexisNexis Pacific, said this survey indicates the inundation of information is taking a heavy psychological toll on Australian workers, for example. 

“Australian workers are finding that the Information Age is causing ‘information rage,’” said Peter. About 50 percent of Australian professionals say that on average, only about half of the information that comes their way every day at work is actually important to them getting their job done.

In Australia, only 40 percent of e-mail received is important to getting a worker’s job done – the lowest of any country polled.

“From the figures, we can assume Australians are effectively spending less than two-and-a-half days a week actually doing their job and the rest of the time trawling through e-mails and other information, over half of which do not have direct relevance to their day-to-day priorities,” said Peter.

LexisNexis obviously believes better information management systems can help, and that undoubtedly is true, up to a point. Beyond that, people are simply going to start ignoring messages. 

In a way, that's a developing strategy lots of people probably already have adopted. There's a river of messages flowing past people at any given point in time. Rather than respond, people probably have figured out that anything requiring action will appear again. But most messages that actually do not require any specific action by a person, and will simply work themselves out, are just in the river and will flow downstream. 

In short, one way of dealing with "information overload" is simply to look at inbound messages as background noise. What needs attention will make itself known. But the rational strategy is to assume most of the messages are essentially noise and to ignore them. 

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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