Drowning in a tide of information

2010

In case you hadn't noticed, human beings still have only two eyes, two hands and one brain. Which is why our capacity for handling information has finite limits – and why the problem of information overload just keeps getting worse.

Just how bad the problem has become is highlighted in a new survey from LexisNexis which has found that more than six out of 10 white collar workers feel that the quality of their work suffers at times because they can't sort through the information they need fast enough.

The survey of 1,700 workers in the United States, China, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia also found that the amount of information they have to manage at work has significantly increased since the economic downturn.

In fact half of all those questioned 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.

And yet respondents say that between a third and half of all the information that comes their way at work each day is not important to them getting their job done.

The problem is particularly acute among American workers, who say that they spend about half their workday just receiving and managing information instead of getting their jobs done.

"Workers across the globe are just about managing to keep their heads above water in a rising tide of information," said LexisNexis' Michael Walsh.

"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.

But while some organisations are well aware of the advantages of effective information management and invest in IT for management and innovation support, not just for running processes and operations, many others do not.

One particularly striking example is that six out of 10 of the Chinese workers surveyed said that their company has provided information management technologies designed specifically for professionals within their industry but just a quarter of Americans said the same thing.

"Wherever you find knowledge workers around the world, you'll also find information overload," Michael Walsh added.

"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."

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Older Comments

Managers like to have meetings. They love piles of paperwork to sift through. I can't tell you how many countless hours are wasted searching for an old email because the employee doesn't now how to use the Advanced Find feature.

The tools are at our disposal, the training more commonly is not.

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