Management of information processes in the workplace : implications of contextual factors and decision makers’ individual factors

Noll, Elisabeth; Letmathe, Peter (Thesis advisor); Harbring, Christine (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : RWTH Aachen University (2021)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2021


Through digitization, the information environment has changed massively along different stages of the information process in the workplace. Not only the amount of available information pieces, but also the range of information presentation formats as well as the availability of various information channels have increased noticeably. In addition to this, further contextual conditions of the information-based decision-making process have altered, such as the time available for making a decision. On the one hand, these changes can support decision-making and the solving of tasks. On the other hand, they can evoke negative consequences, such as a severe rise in workplace stress or a sharp increase in the number of interruptions during work. Within the decision-making process, these changes can considerably affect an individual’s cognitive load and can even lead to information overload, which describes the state when the information processing requirements exceed an individuals’ capacity to process information, with symptoms such as performance deterioration. From the topic of a strongly increased cognitive load and the presence of information overload originates to a great extent the need for an improvement of the information process. It can be differentiated between different categories of causes of an information overload, comprising contextual and individual factors, which lead to symptoms of information overload that are related mostly to the performance of an organization, measured, i.e., in terms of decision-making accuracy or of general performance. To reduce information overload and to improve the information process, the focus should be on symptoms of as well as on causes of information overload. Consequently, the present dissertation analyzes factors that address both of these aspects. It investigates the influences of contextual factors as well as decision makers’ individual factors that are assumed to influence an individual’s cognitive load and decision-making on measures of different stages of the information process in corporate decision-making in order to identify how this process can be improved. The investigated stages in this dissertation comprise those of information acquisition, information processing, and information management. The factors analyzed are measured through experiments and questionnaires. Regarding the increasing use of diverse communication channels, particularly email communication has become an integral part of the everyday communication at work, so that this dissertation targets not only the information overload phenomenon within the information process but also email overload, respectively. The relationship between contextual factors and decision makers’ individual factors and measures of different stages of the information process in corporate decision-making is depicted in an overarching research model. Its related superordinate research question is divided into more detailed research questions, which are examined in three individual research papers. Therefore, the dissertation at hand contains two parts: Part 1 gives a comprehensive overview. It provides the motivation for the research topic, the research model of the dissertation and related research questions, the relevant literature and hypotheses, the research methodologies used within the respective research paper, the summary of the three research papers, as well as the conclusion. Part 2 consists of the three research papers. Research Paper 1 ‘Effects of Time Pressure on the Amount of Information Acquired’ examines the influence of time pressure on the amount of information acquired non-sequentially, i.e. at one point in time. In addition to this, it researches in what way payoff schemes and information costs influence the amount of information used for decision-making when time pressure is present. Thus, Research Paper 1 considers the stage of information acquisition. Laboratory experiments were conducted to analyze these effects. The results reveal that under time pressure, individuals acquire fewer pieces of information in the decision-making task. While no effect is shown for the influence of time pressure in conjunction with a negative payoff scheme, the results reveal an effect of its interaction with the level of information costs for acquirable information. When relatively low information costs and time pressure are present, more information is acquired. Research Paper 2 ‘Presentation Format Choice and Choice Awareness: Experimental Studies Analyzing the Effects on Underlying Factors of Intrinsic Motivation and Task Performance’ focusses on the influences of presentation format choice (i.e., graphs versus tables) and choice awareness on underlying factors of intrinsic motivation, i.e. autonomy and competence, and subsequent decision makers’ performance in symbolic and spatial tasks. Within this context, aspects of cognitive effort and of cognitive fit are examined. Research Paper 2 addresses the stage of information processing and comprises online experiments. The results within symbolic tasks indicate that task performance decreases through the provision of choice by itself, but that it increases when the decision maker chooses tables to solve symbolic tasks. When the decision maker is allowed to choose the presentation format in symbolic tasks and perceives autonomy, performance increases as well. No important effects were found within spatial tasks. Further, choice in general was found to contribute to perceptions of autonomy and competence. By contrast, choice in conjunction with the awareness of having a choice increases perceptions of autonomy but decreases feelings of competence. Research Paper 3 ‘Email Management Strategies: Their Effects on Email Management Performance’ addresses different email management strategies (zero-inbox, to-do list, alertness, prioritization, folder organization) that can be applied by email users and their effects on email management performance. Research Paper 3 targets the stage of information management and its research methodology consists of an online survey. The results reveal that all investigated email management strategies are measurable constructs and that the strategies are applied more often with higher levels of email volume and of perceived usefulness of the email client. Of these strategies, especially the zero inbox, i.e. keeping the email inbox at zero, and the to-do list, i.e. using the email client as a to-do list, strategies increase the email management performance. Overall, the dissertation analyzes the influence of various contextual factors and decision makers’ individual factors, that are assumed to influence an individual’s cognitive load and decision-making, on measures of different stages of the information process in corporate decision making in order to identify how this process can be improved. With this, it provides a holistic analysis along the information process of how to improve this process, it extends information overload research, and it deepens and supports (newer) cognitive theories. Besides this, the dissertation provides managerial implications for the information behavior in the workplace and offers future research implications.