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New Survey Reveals Extent, Impact of Information Overload on Workers; From Boston to Beijing, Professionals Feel Overwhelmed, Demoralized

U.S. Professionals, Like Peers Overseas, Struggle to Cope; Some Employers Taking Action But More Help is Needed, According to LexisNexis Workplace Productivity Survey

October 20, 2010 — NEW YORK – An international survey of white collar workers reveals that information overload is a remarkably widespread and growing problem among professionals around the world, and one that exacts a heavy toll in terms of productivity and employee morale.

The survey of 1,700 white collar workers in five countries – the United States, China, South Africa, United Kingdom and Australia – found professionals in every market struggling to cope and looking to their employers for customized solutions. On average, fifty-nine percent of professionals across the five markets surveyed say that the amount of information they have to process at work has significantly increased since the economic downturn. Given the rising tide of information, it is not surprising that a majority of workers in every market (62%, on average) admit that the quality of their work suffers at times because they can’t sort through the information they need fast enough.

The 2010 International Workplace Productivity Survey, commissioned by LexisNexis – a leading global provider of workflow solutions – builds on a similar survey conducted in 2008. That study established information overload as a phenomenon driving American white collar and legal professionals towards an “information breaking point.” Meanwhile, in the two years since the study was fielded in the U.S., the problem among American white collar workers appears to have gone from bad to worse. American professionals say they spend half their work day receiving and managing information, an almost ten percent increase since 2008.

Drag on Productivity, Morale

This year, the survey was expanded to include countries in Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa, in order to explore if and how information overload impacts workers across the globe. The expanded study reveals the pervasive nature of the problem. An average of half (51%) of all those surveyed in each country say that if the amount of information they receive continues to increase, they will soon reach a “breaking point” at which they will be unable to handle any more. The avalanche of information is also taking a psychological toll on white collar workers. Approximately one in two (52%) professionals surveyed report feeling demoralized when they can’t manage all the information that comes their way at work.

“Workers across the globe are just about managing to keep their heads above water in a rising tide of information,” said Michael Walsh, CEO of U.S. Legal Markets, LexisNexis. “The results of this survey reveal not just how widespread the problem is, but also the very real impact that information overload has on professionals’ productivity and the bottom line. Employers need to do more than simply toss their workers a life preserver and hope for the best. They need to invest in practical solutions.”

“The bad news is that wherever you find knowledge workers around the world, you’ll also find information overload,” Walsh continued. “The good news is that employers who take the initiative and invest in customized technology, tools and training can avoid significant costs in lost productivity. In fact, businesses that really come to grips with this problem could gain a competitive advantage over companies that do not.”

Too Much Information: A Global Challenge

From Boston to Beijing, Sydney to San Francisco, Cape Town to the City of London, white collar workers say they spend as much time wading through information as they do using it in their jobs.

  • In every market, a majority of workers say that the amount of information they have to manage at work has significantly increased since the economic downturn.
       - China: 61%; South Africa: 61%; U.S.: 59%; U.K.: 57%; Australia: 56%
  • On average, workers report spending slightly more than half (51%) of their work day receiving and managing information, rather than actually using information to do their jobs.
  • According to survey respondents, between one third and one half of all the in

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