No Image Available

Site Admin

Read more about Site Admin

How to reduce information overload


With emails, reports and phone calls to deal with on a daily basis for many employees, Gail Franks outlines the communicator's role in reducing information overload.


With so many office staff today spending hours on a daily basis sifting through emails, letters, reports and fielding numerous phone calls, it is hardly surprising that many of them are struggling to manage the constantly growing daily information flow effectively.

Recent research from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has highlighted this growing concern demonstrating that information overload can lead to stress-induced illness. More than 25% of managers polled cited information overload as their main cause of stress in the workplace.


"Try to merge the best of the old with the best of the new. Balance email usage with speaking to people on the telephone, having meetings, and using the office intranet to answer questions."

The HSE stated that in 2004-2005 each case of stress-related ill health led to an average of 30.9 working days lost, and almost 13 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety.

Internal communications specialists are increasingly being asked by clients how to reduce information overload to enable them to convey their messages in a simple, straightforward manner and to create two-way communication with their colleagues on a strictly need-to-know basis, using the most appropriate communications channels available to them.

As communicators, the ultimate objective is to maximise people's creativity and productivity. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Understanding communication channels and making them more focused. It is essential to assess the suitability of information and the channels it flows through for communications in the workplace.
  • Making life easier by simplifying, personalising and tailoring communications, and by understanding and identifying the key audiences within an organisation.
  • Learning how to manage the information that floods into the office. Ask the question: do I need to pass this information on? To who is it important and why?
  • Processing information before it is dispersed. If the essential isn't broken down from the non-essential when communicating it, the information forwarded will take the recipient far longer to digest, often leading to crossed and misunderstood communications.
  • Trying to merge the best of the old with the best of the new. Balance email usage with speaking to people on the telephone, having meetings, and using the office intranet to answer questions. Also utilise the weekly department briefing session as a perfect two-way communication opportunity.
  • Get back into the habit of face-to-face communication to help prevent overload. Face-to-face communication gives you the advantage of being able to read body language, allowing you to pick up on misunderstood communications, confusion and misinterpretation. Briefing sessions facilitate this physical interaction and allow the chance to gain a clear indication of what confuses employees and, more importantly, just lets them talk to one another, providing insight into what is happening in the business on an operational level.
  • Separate the valuable from the invaluable and irrelevant when sending emails. Failure to summarise adequately can result in communications appearing confused and lacking focus.
  • Try to be creative with the communication channels. Try using new net-based forums such as blogs to load social and informal information. Unnecessary emails cause distraction and affect concentration. For instance, take the Christmas party – is there really a need to tell colleagues about the Christmas party via email? Would not a team meeting, newsletter or blog be a more suitable channel for such informal information?
  • Really drilling down on the two-way communication needs of a business can reap great rewards.


"The communications specialist can help create clear communication channels to cut through the white noise of the business."

One example is Severn Trent Water, which has a three tier approach to dispersing news. Under its internal communications umbrella brand Talk, the following different channels are utilised:

  • Team Talk is a monthly manager's briefing presentation, which is downloaded from the intranet and features important business news and health and safety information via a management team of 800 to all colleagues.
  • Streamline is a three times a week online news service loaded on the company intranet.
  • Talk About is a monthly 16-page magazine delivered to all sites and received by all 6,000 colleagues. The magazine covers business and industry news and links directly into the company goal of 'Being the Best'. The magazine is used to breakdown a hierarchical culture and creates two-way open and honest communication. With the company suffering in the past with SCO and OFWAT investigations, the magazine is seen as the best tool to communicate a new culture, enthuse colleagues in the direction of the company, inform them of important new developments, and generate a new team feeling when the company is currently going through a period of change and cost cutting.

So, in the world of information overload, one of the simplest solutions is for staff to ask themselves: do I really need to pass this information on? Who is it important to and why?

The communications specialist can help create clear communication channels to cut through the white noise of the business. With such a filtration process in place, you will then be able to separate both useful information from invaluable information, help establish excellent internal communications and, more importantly, the integrated channels to just let you talk, something that is immeasureably important if you are to overcome information overload.


Gail Franks is managing director of Summersault Communications, an employee, customer and business communication company.


Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.