Do you feel flooded by faxes and memos, overwhelmed by e-mails and voice mails? You have good reason.

Office workers send and receive an average of 190 messages a day, and most get interrupted by such communications at least three times an hour, a study revealed Tuesday.It's no wonder then that workers dial in for messages from dawn to dusk, scrambling to stay ahead of the communications deluge while trying to get their work done too.

"We all want the empty mail box, and we try to get there all day long," said Meredith Fischer, vice president at Pitney Bowes Inc., the office products company that funded the study. "If we don't respond, we become the weak link in the communications chain."

The study, based on a survey of 1,000 workers in large companies as well as face-to-face interviews, tallied up 12 different forms of communications from telephone calls to letters and courier packages.

A similar study carried out by Pitney Bowes last year found that workers sent and got an average of 178 messages daily, although the 1997 study didn't count the receipt of interoffice, post office and courier mail.

Any way you slice it, it's a flood.

"Unless you prioritize, you're in the whirlpool and you're getting dragged down, sucked under," said Don Hasbargen, a Minneapolis-based consultant for Hewitt & Associates who works hard to set limits on his daily barrage of messages.

Adding to the stress on employees is the fact that their work is constantly disrupted. Forty percent of workers get interrupted six or more times an hour by messages, while another 37 percent get interrupted three to five times an hour, according to the Pitney Bowes study.

As well, the ways people communicate are changing. The types of communications that bring two people together at the same time - telephone or cellular phone calls - fell in number in the last year, while the number of e-mail or voice-mail messages grew.

Of course, technology has done much good. New tools have made information readily available and communication easier across boundaries of time and space.

Yet the seemingly endless growth in communication is taking its toll, the study pointed out. Since workers are now almost always available by phone or e-mail, they feel they're always on call.

"The speed of information exchange has gotten us to the place where clients and co-workers expect almost an instant response," said Jannie Herchuk, a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based partner with Deloitte & Touche accountants.

Herchuk likes being able to communicate instantly with clients and co-workers despite her part-time schedule. But to keep up with the constant stream of messages, she checks her voice mail daily before 7 a.m. and again at night after her two young boys are sleeping.

"It's my husband who pays the price," she said. "Fortunately, he's very understanding."

To cope, workers should be better taught how to juggle all the new technologies available to them, said Fischer of Pitney Bowes, which funded the study to research how communications are carried out in companies.

But for now, workers try to cope by delegating, prioritizing - or simply turning off, according to author David Shenk, author of "Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut."

"People stop taking their cell phone home with them, leave their beeper in their desk, stop reading their e-mail all day long," he said. "The issue of information proliferation is going to be a major issue for businesses in future."


Additional Information

Office overload

Office workers receive an average of 190 communications during the course of a workday. A look at how this avalanche breaks down:

30 E-mail

18 Interoffice mail

18 U.S. Postal Service mail

11 Post-it notes

4 Overnight letters/packages

3 U.S. Postal Service Express Mail

52 Telephone calls

22 Voice mail

10 Telephone message slips

15 Faxes

4 Pager

3 Cellular phone calls