Avoiding Information Overload: A Step-by-Step Guide for Organizations

Too much information can be a bad thing for your employees. Psychologists have a word for this – information overload, also known as cognitive overload. It occurs when an individual is exposed to more information than their mind and sensory organs can handle. 

It’s simple science - our brain's capacity to process information is limited and our cognitive processes suffer when there is too much information. In fact, research suggests that excessive information increases the spread of disinformation instead. Therefore, bombarding employees with a lot of information isn’t the best idea and can impact their workplace productivity.

Here's how information overload impacts workplace performance

  1. Spurs poor decision-making: Too much information interferes with employees’ decision-making ability and negatively impacts their performance related KPIs. 
  2. Raises stress levels: Employees prone to high stress tend to perform poorly when experiencing cognitive overload. When stressed, such individuals often make judgment errors.
  3. Increases fatigue: People exposed to excessive information from social media or otherwise suffer from health effects. This is not just limited to mental health impacts but also manifests in physical symptoms such as rising fatigue which negatively impacts their work performance. 
  4. Triggers emotional instability: Scientifically, excessive information negatively impact one's emotions. According to a study conducted in 2021, information overload increases negative emotions among its recipients by 27.1%, making them perform sub-optimally. 
  5. Manifests an avoidance tendency: People exposed to much information avoid it altogether. So, if you send your employees a lot of information, they may probably avoid your communication altogether. 

But how much information is too much information? What causes information overload?

Common causes of information overload in the workplace

Here are some factors that result in information overload:

  1. Overenthusiastic communication team - While communication is essential and must be consistent, sometimes organizations give into excessive messaging, resulting in information overload.

  2. Not having a structured communication strategy- Often, communication teams do not design communication campaigns based on employee data and follow a one-size-fits-all approach. They fail to consider different employee groups' time availability, intelligence levels, and personal interests. For example, sending multiple push notifications to all. This may result in busy executives getting disturbed and hurting their performance.

  3. External factors - Sometimes, circumstances outside the control of an organization's communication team lead to information overload. This can include anything from employees voluntarily choosing to consume unrelated information or stream on social media platforms excessively. Alternatively, some individuals may have dominant personality characteristics such as overthinking or getting distracted quickly. 

The good news is - everything has a solution.

Step-by-step guide to overcoming information overload in the workplace
Information Overload - article

Ensure unnecessary information is not communicated

While it is great to be consistent in your communication, it helps to remember that too much information can negatively impact you. Hence, ensure you only communicate what is necessary and avoid sending out unimportant communications. This way, employees conserve their cognitive resources and also value your messages when they arrive on their devices.

Segment your employees and develop tailor-made communication campaigns

Employees are not all the same, and most have different capacities to process information. Make sure that you understand different employees' preferred modes of communication and the amount of information that is considered acceptable. This is possible by conducting regular surveys. You can segment your employees based on different attributes and create multiple campaigns that align with each sub-group’s preferences.

Monitor engagement levels regularly

Use an employee communication app to monitor your employees' engagement levels with your communication regularly. This will tell you if your messages are being actively ignored, which can indicate information overload. In addition, you can seek direct feedback to check if employees are comfortable with your current communication frequency. 

Urge your employees to focus on their physical and mental health

Information overload happens when a person's brain can no longer process it. This can be due to external factors such as being stress-prone, tired, or having health conditions over which you may not have control. Hence, generally stressing the importance of physical and mental health among your employees is also something you can prioritize in your internal comms. It can be as simple as urging them to take regular breaks from social media from work or urging them to get enough exercise. 

Mastering communicating  starts with learning to not go overboard

Information overload hurts employees' physical and mental health. This results in reduced performance, a negative attitude towards the organization, and disinterest in communication material.

It is essential for communication professionals to actively study their employee engagement and seek feedback before developing communication campaigns.