Communication Overload: What It Is and How to Manage Information Overload in Your Company

Nataša Mlađenović
Nataša Mlađenović
Jan 25, 202312 minute read

In this digitally driven era, managing the influx of information is a daily battle, and it can seem like an uphill struggle trying to keep up.

We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information coming at us from all angles, and the workplace is no exception.

Employees are increasingly finding themselves in a communication overload, trying to sift through emails, text messages, notifications, and other forms of communication while also juggling deadlines and projects.

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Simply relying on your employees to be able to deal with this themselves is not a viable solution, which is why it’s important to recognize communication overload and be proactive in helping your team manage it.

What is Communication Overload?

Have you ever felt completely overwhelmed by the volume of messages and information you're receiving at a given moment? That's communication overload.

It's a curse of the modern age that has become more and more of a problem as technology advances. Being always available and able to communicate with anyone at any time has its advantages, but it's also a major stress factor - both personally and professionally.

When the influx of information is too much to handle, our brains become overwhelmed as they try to process it all. This leads to elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and can cause a variety of issues, including confusion, memory loss, and anxiety.

It is not easy to manage information overload in one's personal life, but it is achievable because we can set our own limits and boundaries. When it comes to the workplace though, things can get a lot more complicated.

Employees simply don't have the luxury of taking a break from their work emails or chats when they are feeling overwhelmed, but if left unmanaged, communication overload can lead to a variety of issues:

  • 35% feel that having to keep up with today’s “information overload” leaves them feeling stressed out, unable to relax, and anxious
  • 65% say that the need to keep track of a great deal of information is a “major concern” in their lives
  • 33% felt they were suffering from poor health due to information overload.
  • 66% reported tension with their co-workers and management as well as reduced job satisfaction.
  • 62% admitted their social and professional relationships were suffering.

And these studies were conducted a decade ago. Imagine how much this has grown since then.

The Impact of Information Overload at Work

This is why it's vital for companies to take steps to manage this problem otherwise information overload will hurt your business in more than one way:

1. Employee Burnout

It is often assumed that burnout is caused by overwork, but how people experience their workload has a much bigger impact on burnout than hours worked.

Being under constant stress and feeling like you can't get on top of everything can be draining, leading to exhaustion, disengagement, and ultimately, burnout.

Unfortunately, burnout has become an accepted reality for many workers, but the organizational cost of this problem is much higher than you may think. Employees who report feeling burned out at work are:

  • 63% more likely to take a sick day
  • Half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager
  • 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
  • 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer
  • 13% less confident in their performance

In short, employee burnout, if left unmanaged, can easily snowball into a massive organizational problem, as it not only affects performance but also increases the risk of turnover.

2. Inefficiency & Poor Quality of Work

The constant stream of information also leads to something called context switching, which is detrimental to productivity.

Let's say you're in the midst of preparing your presentation for tomorrow morning's meeting and you get a message from your boss asking if you could send them last year's data for their presentations. Sure, it'll just take a minute, so you jump right on it.

You go back to doing your presentation, but then your chat group pings you with a funny gif. It's right there, it'll take a second, so you check it out, maybe comment on it, then go back to your presentation. Where did you leave off?

Then your colleague sends you an update on their project and you start to discuss it. 15 minutes later, you realize that you were mid-sentence in your presentation and have completely forgotten what it was about.

This is context switching and it's a real productivity killer. As your brain switches between tasks, you're spending more time getting back up to speed than if you'd just stayed focused on one thing.

Context switching is basically an involuntary form of multitasking, where employees are switching between different tasks and sources of information - and multitasking is a myth.

Even if you think it's working for you, the truth is that our brains aren't designed to focus on two things at the same time. What you are doing whilst multitasking is simply rapidly switching from one task to another, and each time you do that, it takes a toll on your cognitive abilities - and that reflects in your productivity.

Studies found that multitasking can lead to up to a 40% drop in productivity, it can take up to 50% longer to complete a task when you're multitasking, and it can decrease your accuracy by up to 50%.

Workplace Paralysis

This can also lead to something called workplace paralysis. This is the state people find themselves in when they have so many tasks at hand that they become unable to focus on and complete even a single one of them.

And it's not always due to a lot of urgent tasks, but rather a constant stream of them, because each new message we receive, our brains basically see as a new task that needs to be handled.

The ping from a colleague about their project, the message from HR about the paid leave requested, the company announced in the group chat - they all feel like they need to be responded to in a timely manner.

And as you try to juggle them all, your stress levels rise, your focus and productivity decrease, and you find yourself stuck in a constant loop of not being able to get anything done.

3. Decreased Job Satisfaction and Engagement

We all know how it feels to be constantly overwhelmed, and we don't need science to tell us that this feeling is not conducive to a positive work experience.

But there's also hard data that shows the negative effect of information overload on job satisfaction, especially so when it comes to knowledge workers. The same study also found a significant correlation between psychological pressure and information overload.

And if your employees are stressed, overwhelmed, and overall dissatisfied with their jobs their engagement levels are going to take a hit, which again means lower productivity, worse quality of work, and higher turnover rates.

What Causes Communication Overload?

At this point, we have a pretty good idea of what the consequences of communication overload are, but what causes it in the first place?

And let's not jump to conclusions. Sure, the never-ending stream of messages, emails, and notifications looks like the culprit, but before we can address the issue, we need to identify the underlying cause.

It's not just the abundance of information we receive, but the value we assign to it.

Our Brains Love Novelty

I'm not going to bore you with the exact neuroscience behind this behavior but simply put: our brains love novelty.

Our prefrontal cortex is easily distracted by shiny new information and even rewards us for seeking it in the form of a dopamine rush.

So every time we receive a new message, notification, or email, our brain instantly tells us to go take a look and the act of doing so triggers the same reward system that's active when you eat a good piece of chocolate.

What that means is, that the part of the brain you need to focus on a task, is the very same one that will sabotage you when it comes to ignoring the overwhelming amount of incoming information.

Urgent vs Important: Understanding the Difference

One of the ways in which modern communication exacerbates information overload is by ignoring the distinctions between urgent and important.

Let's take email as an example. When you receive a new email, there is no way of telling if it needs immediate attention or not before you actually read it. So you'll have to read each and every one of them to make that determination, and that quickly leads to overload.

Add to that the cognitive load of deciding if you need to respond to it right away or if it can wait, and evaluating social, economic, or job-related consequences if I don’t answer... you might not be doing it consciously, but the process is taking up a lot more of your time than you think.

Reduce Information Overload

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Texting and chats suffer from the same problem, but with added hyper immediacy. As soon as the notification hits, we feel pressured to react as an unanswered text feels insulting to the sender, regardless of the content and its actual urgency.

So we get hooked on this cycle: every new message lights up our novelty centers, we read it, answer it because of social or work pressure, and get a small dopamine reward for "completing a task" even though it was a task we shouldn't have been doing in the first place.

And the cycle continues until our focus and productivity suffer.

How to Manage Information Overload in Your Company

There is no simple solution to this issue, other than forsaking all communication and living in a cave (which, honestly, is starting to sound pretty appealing right now).

But as we already established, the issue is not just the amount of information we get, but the way our brains react to it.

The trick is to find ways of protecting our focus and productivity by harnessing the power of technology, instead of letting it overpower us.

1. Establishing clear communication guidelines

Knowing that your employees will treat each and every message with the same level of importance is valuable insight because it will help you fine-tune the way messages are sent and received within your organization.

Not all important messages are always urgent. Make sure that your employees know the difference and set a policy for when to use which type of communication.

For example, if you need to share an important update with your team that doesn't require a response right away, use a different channel than your chat app.

This brings us to the next point.

2. Using more efficient communication channels

There is no point in setting guidelines if all messages will still be distributed via the same channels.

Even though it seems counterintuitive, adding new channels into the mix can actually help reduce information overload.

For instance, using a project management software like Trello or Asana can help alleviate email overload, because updates on projects (which do not require immediate attention or feedback) can be shared and looked up as needed, instead of being distributed via email.

The same is true for a social intranet or employee engagement app because you do want your employees to be connected, and to have a place to exchange ideas and ask questions. What you might not want, however, is them using texts or chat apps for that (for all the reasons we mentioned earlier).

By providing an asynchronous, socially-oriented communication platform, you can keep your employees connected, but still give them the freedom to tune out when they need to focus.

3. Cut down on meetings

Though there is a lot of value to be found in face-to-face conversations, they can also be quite disruptive.

Especially in recent years, with the rise of hybrid work environments, online meetings have become the norm. But since their introduction, they have also become an easy route for communication overload.

Instead of scheduling a meeting every time you need to discuss something, ask yourself if it is really necessary to have a face-to-face call. If you just finished a draft and want your team's opinion on it, is it really necessary to call everyone in for a meeting? Can't it just be sent via email, or shared on an internal collaboration platform?

And if it really needs to be a meeting, do you really need to invite everyone, or can you just call the people who are directly involved? Often times people will invite everyone just in case, but that can often lead to more confusion and communication overload.

So normalize having shorter, more focused meetings with only the people who need to be there. That way, you can still get your point across without overloading anyone in the process.

4. Encouraging digital detoxing

Finally, you need to create an environment where people are encouraged to switch off and disconnect every now and then - be it for a quick break or a longer period of time.

Sure you don't want them to miss out on important information, but if you implement the right communication strategies and channels for the right type of messages, they should have no problem staying in the loop even if they take a break.

Creating a culture where people feel comfortable taking some time away from their screens will be beneficial to everyone: it will help preserve mental health, reduce fatigue and stress, increase focus and productivity, and ultimately make for a better workplace. So let your team know that it's OK to unplug every now and then!


Information overload is a problem that will not resolve itself. With the progress of technology, it will only get worse.

So the sooner you realize that you need to be proactive about it, the easier it will be to create an environment where everyone can stay productive, without having to sacrifice their sanity.

By implementing clear communication guidelines and providing efficient communication channels that suit the task at hand, you can make sure that information overload won't be an issue for your team.

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