Now it's e-mail gridlock

Having beaten traffic gridlock to get to their offices, American workers now face the stress of an information gridlock caused by dealing with an average of 178 e-mail messages a day, according to a new report.

The jams caused by modern communications methods are creating an information block which needs to be cleared up as urgently as congestion on the roads, the report says. Getting important news through is becoming increasingly hard.

A survey by the Institute for the Future, the Gallup Organisation, and San Jose State University, asked more than 1,000 workers from large US firms how they use electronic communications at work.

"This phenomenon is beginning to have a seismic effect on people's professional and private lives," said Meredith Fischer, future strategist at Pitney Bowes, the company that commissioned the survey.

The survey found most of the workers favoured the telephone for communicating outside their company, but preferred e-mail for getting in touch with their own colleagues.

People were under added stress because the proliferation of new communications makes them easy to get hold of. Individuals want to maximise their access to co-workers, but minimise access to themselves, the report said.

The availability of office e-mail systems, and of electronic means of sending multiple copies of messages to huge numbers of people, has made it easier to send data to people without determining how important it is. The result is that despite the dream of a "paperless office" the number of memos has not necessarily decreased.