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Research staff profile: introducing...Dr Emma Russell

Tell us about yourself

Dr Emma Russell I am a Chartered and Registered Occupational Psychologist, a Senior Lecturer in Occupational Psychology, Postgraduate Research Co-ordinator, and Head of the Wellbeing at Work (WWK) Research Group at Kingston Business School. I conduct research into the strategies that people use to deal with work email. I apply a psychological focus to this by examining the relationship between email strategies, wellbeing and goal achievement, with personality. My research is usually conducted in the field, working within and alongside organisations to understand how email impacts people's daily work, often using experience and event sampling techniques. I have worked with organisations such as Siemens, the BBC, Voluntary Services Overseas, the NHS, EDF-Energy and the World Wildlife Fund. My research has been funded by the MRC, ESRC, University of Surrey, Richard Benjamin Trust, Acas and private sources. I first became interested in the area of email management when working a as a consultant psychologist with practitioners in industry, and I continue to try and ensure my research is relevant and impactful to people going about their everyday work.

Apart from my email research, I also conduct evaluations of training and management programmes, design and run training and coaching programmes, and conduct personality profiling for selection and development. I am a Verified Assessor of British Psychological Society (BPS) test-user training courses, a BPS Verifier (sitting on the Verification Committee) and Associate Fellow of the BPS. I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Authority, and currently Director of Studies for three PhD Students.

What is your current research focused on?

I am publishing a research report with Acas in August 2017 on how people's email strategies impact wellbeing and productivity in different ways, according to the work culture, technological constraints and personality factors involved. My ongoing projects involve working with the NHS to: (i) appraise the efficacy of a new health app (NHS-GO) that has been developed for children and young people in London, and (ii) evaluate leadership training programmes. Additionally, I am working with WWF on an email training programme, to examine whether the provision of regular 'email tips' can have a sustained impact on people's email strategies, and subsequently their productivity and wellbeing. I am fortunate to be involved in research with colleagues from across the UK, most recently at Loughborough University, Surrey University and UEA.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about ensuring that my research can make a positive difference to people dealing with the day-to-day pressures of work email. I believe that the best way of doing this is by conducting research with workers engaged in their authentic work activity, and by collaborating with academics and practitioners across a range of fields and disciplines. To then really make a difference research needs to be disseminated via a variety of channels from conferences, academic and trade publications and in the wider media.

How does your research affect people's everyday lives?

When my work is reported in the broader media it becomes very accessible (journalists have a great way of honing in on the most salient outcomes that will be of interest to the general population). I find this provides new life and energy to my research and shows me what the priorities of end-users are likely to be. I hope that when my research is disseminated to the public in this way that people are then able to reflect on their email strategies and think about what they can do to get the best out of their email. From an organisational perspective, producing recommendations, email tips and policy guidance is essential. There is so much that organisations can do to improve people's experience of email, to ensure that it is used as an efficient tool, rather than an enslaving tyrant.

If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

From my field of research, it would be the culture of mistrust that is often reflected in people's use of email. When people at work do not trust each other, email can be used as a sly and pernicious device that exacerbates the problem - keeping audit trails of missives, using 'cc' to hold people accountable, 'hiding' behind email, 'broadcasting' via email, micromanagement using email, misinterpreting intentions, reactive emailing, etc. These are all strategies that negatively impact wellbeing and productivity for all involved, and are routed in broken work cultures that need mending from the top down.

With unlimited research budget, I would...

Develop a new, flexible text-based communication tool that adapts to people's natural preferences and priorities; allowing workers to adopt all of the most effective strategies for being productive, feeling engaged and in control. This tool would have artificial intelligence to learn how best to respond within any work culture or organisation and would prevent users from adopting strategies of misuse, addictive behaviours and miscommunications. Although flexible to users' needs, inherent in the tool would be guidance on how to optimise communications and protect workers from exploitative practices such as being contacted out-of-hours, when they do not want to be.

What is the best thing about researching at Kingston University?

It is a vibrant research community, and within the Business School I have been fortunate to work with people across disciplines (behavioural economists, marketing experts, experimental Psychologists, and HR professionals) that have informed my understanding. Kingston is very supportive of research and keen to promote international and world-leading outputs, which is something that I very much value.

Find out more about Dr Emma Russell on her staff profile page.

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