Getting on top of work-email: A systematic review of 25 years of research to understand effective work-email activity

Emma Russell, Thomas W. Jackson, Marc Fullman and Petros Chamakiotis (2023), Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology

In the last 25 years, work-email activity has been studied across domains and disciplines. Yet, despite the abundance of research available, a comprehensive, unifying framework of how work-email activity positively impacts both well-being and work-performance outcomes has yet to emerge. This is a timely and significant concern; work-email is the most prominent and popular form of work communication but it is still unclear what people need to do to be effective emailers at work. To address this, we undertook a rigorous cross-disciplinary systematic literature review of 62 empirical papers. Using action regulation theory, we developed a multi-action, multi-goal framework and found four ‘super’ actions that consistently predict effectiveness (positive well-being and work-performance outcomes). These actions involve: (i) communicating and adhering to work-email access boundaries; (ii) regularly triaging emails (iii) sending work-relevant email and (iv) being civil and considerate in work-email exchanges. We found that super actions are engaged when workers have the resources to appropriately regulate their activity, and can attend to their self, task and social needs. Our framework synthesizes a broad and disparate research field, providing valuable insights and guiding future research directions. It also offers practical recommendations to organizations and individuals; by understanding and encouraging the adoption of work-email super actions, effective work-email practices can be enhanced.

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