NEW YORK--()--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 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.”
The survey of 1,700 white collar workers in five countries – the United States, China, South Africa, United Kingdom and Australia – found professionals in every market struggling to cope and looking to their employers for customized solutions. On average, fifty-nine 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%, 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 leading 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 towards 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 work day receiving and managing information, an almost ten 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%) 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 one in two (52%) 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,” Walsh continued. “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.”
Too Much Information: A Global Challenge
From Boston to Beijing, Sydney to San Francisco, Cape Town to the City of 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.
- China: 61%; South Africa: 61%; U.S.: 59%; U.K.: 57%; Australia: 56%
- On average, workers report spending slightly more than half (51%) of their work day 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.
- Approximately three quarters of professionals in the U.S., China and South Africa agree that search engines give them access to huge amounts of information but don’t help them prioritize it for their professional needs. In Australia, more than nine out of ten professionals agree that this is the case.
“24/7” Communications: Friend or Foe?
While the advancement of digital technology has made it easier for today’s white collar professionals to do their jobs anywhere in the world, workers say that being available “24/7” also has a down side.
- When asked how they prefer to be reached with important information, more workers in the U.S., U.K. and South Africa choose email over any other means, including mobile or landline phone, text messages or in-person meetings.
- Yet, a majority of professionals in all markets surveyed say the combination of constant accessibility and the incessant flow of email makes it harder to focus on their work. More than eight in ten (85%) white collar workers in Australia and more than two thirds (69%) of South Africa’s professionals say the constant flow of email and other information is distracting, making it more difficult to focus on the task at hand. Six in ten workers in the U.S. (60%), U.K. (62%) and China (57%) echo this sentiment.
- To cope, a large majority of workers in every market admit deleting or discarding work information without fully reading it. Nine out of ten (91%) U.S. professionals say they have done this, as have eight in ten workers in China (84%) and Australia (82%), and almost three-quarters of professionals in the U.K. (73%) and South Africa (71%).
Impact Varies From Market to Market
The survey also reveals that, while information overload is a remarkably widespread phenomenon, the problem manifests itself in the workplace in different ways depending on geographic location. For example, in the average work week:
- Nine out of ten (92%) U.S. professionals report needing to search for old emails or documents at least once a week, and that not being able to access the right information at the right time is a huge time waster (90%).
- Workers in China are more likely than those in other countries to report needing to recreate documents because previous versions can’t be found (66%), missing deadlines because of trouble finding the necessary information (45%), and missing meetings or appointments because of scheduling miscommunications (50%) at least once a week.
- In South Africa, more than half (57%) of respondents report delivering incomplete documents, email or other communications because the necessary information or materials could not be found on time, while in Australia, 58% of respondents report disagreements among colleagues about the right way to organize information at least once in an average work week.
Workers Demand Solutions: Employers in Some Countries Seen to be More Supportive Than in Others
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, including the U.S. 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 eight in ten workers say their employer has taken at least one action, such as investing in technology, offering training and establishing “email-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% of Chinese workers say their company has provided information management technologies designed specifically for professionals within their industry versus just 25% of workers in the U.S., while a quarter (26%) of professionals in China say their companies have established email-free days or times, versus only 6% in the U.S.
- Overall, almost nine in ten U.S. professionals and more than 94% of workers in the other four markets say their companies could do more to help them better handle information in their job.
- 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.
- More than eight out of ten (82%) professionals surveyed say they could be more efficient if the software tools that they use were designed to work the way they work.
LexisNexis® (www.lexisnexis.com) is a leading global provider of content-enabled workflow solutions designed specifically for professionals in the legal, risk management, corporate, government, law enforcement, accounting, and academic markets. LexisNexis originally pioneered online information with its Lexis® and Nexis® services. A member of Reed Elsevier [NYSE: ENL; NYSE: RUK] (www.reedelsevier.com), LexisNexis serves customers in more than 100 countries with 15,000 employees worldwide.
About the 2010 International Workplace Productivity Survey
LexisNexis commissioned the 2010 International Workplace Productivity Survey. The study included 1,700 white collar professionals across five countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, China, South Africa and Australia. This diverse group of countries was chosen so as to provide a sample that included white collar workers from a variety of geographies, who are working in different economic conditions and whose access to technology is not uniform in every location. The study included 300 non-legal professionals and 200 legal professionals in the US and 200 non-legal professionals and 100 legal professionals in each of the other markets. It was fielded by WorldOne, an international market research agency, specializing in the collection and analysis of data for leading market research organizations, consulting firms and corporations. The findings are available online at http://www.multivu.com/players/English/46619-LexisNexis-International-Workplace-Productivity-Survey/.