Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Sarah Flesher, Education

PING!: An Exploratory Study of the Relationship between Mental Health Characteristics, IM Usage, and Communication Effectiveness During COVID-19

Monday, November 1, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Dolly Grewal



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


March 2020, the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, ushered in the immediate use of IM technologies and changed the narrative around the impact of IM usage in the workplace. Rather than debating whether these technologies were increasing productivity and resulting in communication efficiencies, they became a survival mechanism; a way to continue communicating with colleagues without being in-person. Simultaneously, the overall mental health of our workforce began to decline as knowledge workers had to adapt to new work environments, processes and tools in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis. This study concerns itself with these two topics: online communication and mental health; precisely, the relationship between mental health characteristics and the perceived effectiveness of communication through instant message technologies is explored.

The dissertation follows a mixed methods approach and is exploratory in nature. The goal of the study is to understand the impact of mental health characteristics on IM usage and perceived communication effectiveness. Specifically, a comparison is made between employee perception of IM use as an effective means of communication before the pandemic and now. How workers have coped with the changes that come from working remotely and the strategies they have developed to address potential mental health challenges while continuing to work are also examined.

The findings indicate that IM communication tools are effective enough, meaning that, despite their benefits, key flaws negatively impact one’s ability to be an effective communicator. Although overall mental health was not correlated with IM communication effectiveness and has had little impact on one’s ability to use these tools, the pandemic has led to increased feelings of isolation, loneliness, and stress. These factors are exacerbated by the lack of visual cues associated with IM, one’s ability to manage multiple platforms synchronously, the lack of online communication etiquette, and missing governance around online communication that may only come with increased usage and/or time. These conclusions are further analysed and recommendations for organizations and employers are provided.

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