Information Pollution


You cannot swing a dead cat and not find a blog post, book, or article about the importance of communication at the workplace. Anyone who has had a job knows that effective communication is often touted as the most important element of a working environment. In fact, how well you communicate with other people is often a measurement taken into consideration during annual performance reviews. Ensuring everyone is on the same page and has the necessary information to do their job is undoubtedly the cornerstone of any successful business. But what happens when your boss jumps the information shark? 


Perhaps you are incredibly lucky and have no idea what I’m talking about. How could someone possibly give you too much information, right? Well it’s a thing and it’s bad for business. Put simply, let’s use an example we all can understand. Imagine you have a second-grade son who has a spelling test on Friday. Throughout the week his job in his English class is to do spelling exercises to increase the likelihood he will perform well on the spelling test. Now imagine that throughout the week the English teacher gives him assignments and lessons related to spelling, but also gives him math assignments and lessons from the fifth grade math class, history lessons from the fourth grade history class, science lessons from the third grade science class and peppers in some random articles from the New York Times and BBC. Do you think this deluge of information will confuse your second grader? Will it make it difficult for him to discern what matters and what to focus on to do well on the spelling test? And how will he decide what to do with all the extraneous information? He may think it is a trick and he must know all the other things, he may feel anxious because he doesn’t know what is expected of him, or he may just disregard all of it and hope for the best. Either way, as the parent, you should ask why the teacher felt it was necessary to give your son all this extraneous information and you would be justified in questioning the teacher’s logic. The answer is plain and simple: there is no logical reason. The teacher just loves information and doesn’t fully understand the power dynamic between teacher and student and therefore is not aware that giving your son and his class a bunch of unrelated information causes confusion, anxiousness and probably irritation. She lacks a filter. She is an information polluter.


Not all workplaces have information pollution. In fact, most places I’ve worked have handled information flawlessly, telling you what you need to know –nothing more and nothing less. This allows staff to work efficiently and stay focused on their respective duties. When you work with an information polluter, it is difficult to decipher how the information is relevant to you and your role. It is unclear why information polluters do this, but if one were to guess it could be possible that it comes from a place of incompetence. You know the old saying by WC Fields, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit,” or in modern terms, bury them with information so they can’t see that you don’t know what you are doing. Or maybe it is just a compulsion to be an information polluter. Or maybe it is narcissism, believing that everyone wants to know the same things you know so they can be just like you. This is fine for a dinner party with your friends, or conversations around the dinner table with your family. However, when used as a practice at a workplace, it is damaging. First, you will have staff losing hours of productivity while consuming information that is not relevant to their job, so they will be wasting time (labor expense). This waste of time may come in the form of the employee sifting through copious amounts of information trying to figure out how the information applies to their job, basically trying to look for the ‘hidden message’ they think you are sending. This likely will cause anxiousness. Second, if they fall into the camp of disregarding the information you give because they think you are hare-brained and just give them every piece of information you come across, they may miss important information you actually need them to know.


The bottom line is this: Don’t be an information polluter. There is no business or rational reason to share unnecessary information with your staff in the name of “communicating.” This isn’t communication, it is a nuisance and has no place in the workplace. Share things that are relevant. Make sure everyone has the information they need for their job. Stay on point so your staff can stay on theirs and do whatever it is you pay them to do.