Examining conscientiousness as a key resource in resisting email interruptions : implications for volatile resources and goal achievement

Russell, Emma, Woods, Stephen A. and Banks, Adrian P. (2017) Examining conscientiousness as a key resource in resisting email interruptions : implications for volatile resources and goal achievement. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 90(3), pp. 407-435. ISSN (print) 0963-1798


Within the context of the conservation of resources model, when a resource is deployed, it is depleted - albeit temporarily. However, when a 'key', stable resource, such as Conscientiousness, is activated (e.g., using a self-control strategy, such as resisting an email interruption), we predicted that (1) another, more volatile resource (affective well-being) would be impacted and that (2) this strategy would be deployed as a trade-off, allowing one to satisfy task goals, at the expense of well-being goals. We conducted an experience‐sampling field study with 52 email-users dealing with their normal email as it interrupted them over the course of a half‐day period. This amounted to a total of 376 email reported across the sample. Results were analysed using random coefficient hierarchical linear modelling and included cross-level interactions for Conscientiousness with strategy and well-being. Our first prediction was supported - deploying the stable, key resource of Conscientiousness depletes the volatile, fluctuating resource of affective well-being. However, our second prediction was not fully realized. Although resisting or avoiding an email interruption was perceived to hinder well-being goal achievement by Conscientious people, it had neither a positive nor negative impact on task goal achievement. Implications for theory and practice are discussed. Practitioner points: It may be necessary for highly Conscientious people to turn off their email interruption alerts at work, in order to avoid the strain that results from an activation-resistance mechanism afforded by the arrival of a new email. Deploying key resources means that volatile resources may be differentially spent, depending on one's natural tendencies and how these interact with the work task and context. This suggests that the relationship between demands and resources is not always direct and predictable. Practitioners may wish to appraise the strategies they use to deal with demands such as email at work, to identify if these strategies are assisting with task or well-being goal achievement, or whether they have become defunct through automation.

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