New York — Oct. 28
An international survey of white-collar workers reveals that information overload is a remarkably widespread and growing problem among professionals around the world and one that exacts a heavy toll in terms of productivity and employee morale.
The survey of 1,700 white-collar workers in five countries — the United States, China, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia — found professionals in every market struggling to cope and looking to their employers for customized solutions. On average, 59 percent of professionals across the five markets surveyed say that the amount of information they have to process at work has significantly increased since the economic downturn. Given the rising tide of information, it is not surprising that a majority of workers in every market (62 percent on average) admit that the quality of their work suffers at times because they can’t sort through the information they need fast enough.
The 2010 International Workplace Productivity Survey, commissioned by LexisNexis, a global provider of workflow solutions, builds on a similar survey conducted in 2008. That study established information overload as a phenomenon driving American white-collar and legal professionals toward an “information breaking point.” Meanwhile, in the two years since the study was fielded in the U.S., the problem among American white-collar workers appears to have gone from bad to worse. American professionals say they spend half their workday receiving and managing information, an almost 10 percent increase since 2008.
Drag on Productivity, Morale
This year, the survey was expanded to include countries in Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa, in order to explore if and how information overload impacts workers across the globe. The expanded study reveals the pervasive nature of the problem. An average of half (51 percent) of all those surveyed in each country say that if the amount of information they receive continues to increase, they will soon reach a “breaking point” at which they will be unable to handle any more.
The avalanche of information is also taking a psychological toll on white-collar workers. Approximately 1 in 2 (52 percent) professionals surveyed report feeling demoralized when they can’t manage all the information that comes their way at work.
“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, LexisNexis. “The results of this survey reveal not just how widespread the problem is, but also the very real impact that information overload has on professionals’ productivity and the bottom line. Employers need to do more than simply toss their workers a life preserver and hope for the best. They need to invest in practical solutions.
“The bad news is that wherever you find knowledge workers around the world, you’ll also find information overload. The good news is that employers who take the initiative and invest in customized technology, tools and training can avoid significant costs in lost productivity. In fact, businesses that really come to grips with this problem could gain a competitive advantage over companies that do not.”
A Global Challenge
From Boston to Beijing, Sydney to San Francisco, and Cape Town to London, white-collar workers say they spend as much time wading through information as they do using it in their jobs.
In every market, a majority of workers say that the amount of information they have to manage at work has significantly increased since the economic downturn.
On average, workers report spending slightly more than half (51 percent) of their workday receiving and managing information rather than actually using information to do their jobs.
According to survey respondents, between one-third and one-half of all the information that professionals receive at work each day is not important to them getting their job done.
Workers Demand Solutions
While the majority of professionals in every market say their companies have taken at least some action in the past two years to help them manage information more efficiently, employees in China are most likely to say their employers have taken steps to address the problem compared to those in other countries. In terms of specific solutions, professionals say they would welcome up-to-date technology and customized tools designed with their profession in mind, as well as more training to help them successfully manage the deluge of information.
In each country, more than 8 in 10 workers say their employer has taken at least one action, such as investing in technology, offering training and establishing “e-mail-free” times.
However, it appears that employers in China are doing more to help their employees with information overload than those in the U.S. For example, 62 percent of Chinese workers say their company has provided information management technologies designed specifically for professionals within their industry versus just 25 percent of workers in the U.S., while a quarter (26 percent) of professionals in China say their companies have established e-mail-free days or times, versus only 6 percent in the U.S.
The most popular solutions requested by white-collar workers surveyed include: investments in faster computers and more up-to-date technology, information management tools that work together, technology designed specifically for professionals in their industry, and training in information management.
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