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Reducing reading stress in the workplace

Have you ever wondered why sometimes a piece of online information seems easy to read? And yet other times you struggle to absorb the very same information?

One of the little-considered reasons why online knowledge management systems often fail to deliver their promised benefits is the link between the stress of the reading situation and the readability of a piece of text.

Consider the novel you’re currently reading. Chances are the font is small and the line spacing (‘leading’) is close. So why do publishers lay out text in novels in a way that makes them harder to read? It has to do with the situation in which the target audience tend to read novels.

Reading a novel is generally a leisure activity – in fact for many of us it’s a form of stress relief. So because the reading situation isn’t stressful, your brain can cope with the smaller font, tighter line spacing and longer reading line.

Reading in ‘the heat of battle’

Now consider the situation in which most knowledge management systems are read. It’s often a highly stressful environment where the contact center agent might be looking for the right product information to answer a customer query while simultaneously completing the customer’s purchase application in the CRM system.

Reading instructions while under pressure and performing multiple tasks at once can raise the stress level of the agent’s reading situation. Not surprisingly, this has a negative impact on the readability of the information being displayed by the knowledge management system.

Unless the typography, layout and design of your system take account of the typical reading situation, the important information it contains might be too difficult for users to read ‘in the heat of battle’.

A GPS for the job

To put this in context, consider another stressful reading situation – reading directions while driving a car. GPS manufacturers long ago realized that traditional maps needed to be broken up into small chunks that could be read at a glance. This allowed drivers to take in the driving instructions without having to take their eyes off the road.

So when considering how to design the delivery of your online information for employees, take a cue from the likes of Garmin and TomTom and give your employees a GPS for the job.

Remember, if it’s easy to read ‘in the heat of battle’ then it’s more likely your employees will turn to the knowledge management system when they need guidance on the job. And that’s a surefire way to ensure your team members are switched on and performing at their peak.

Ted Gannan

Ted Gannan co-founded Panviva after 20 years in a variety of senior management, sales, and editorial roles in the publishing industry, including Managing Director of Thomson Learning, Australia. Ted led the development of SupportPoint after identifying a need for an improved method of delivering ‘moment-of-need’ procedural and product knowledge to employees. He is responsible for overseeing the company’s growth worldwide.

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