Checking email from work during non-working hours can harm health

Desiree Burns
August 12, 2018

The mere expectations of availability increase strain for employees and their significant others - even when employees do not engage in actual work during nonwork time.

William Becker, a Virginia Tech associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business, co-wrote a paper showing non-stop work expectations cause anxiety, harmful effects on employees' health, and the health of their families. Alternative studies have showcased that the tension of expanded job demands causes pressure and dispute in family relationships when the employee is not able to attain non work positions at home "such as when somebody gets the work home to end it". Mindfulness may help employees be more present in family interactions, Becker said.

The study will be presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting in Chicago, which is set to take place August 10-14.

Both partners also reported negative health impacts from the increased anxiety, which may be explained by the well-established relationship between chronic stress and poor physical and mental health outcomes. Being upfront about these expectations may reduce anxiety in employees and increase understanding from their family members, Becker said.

Significant others also reported decreased relationship satisfaction in contrast to employees themselves, whose satisfaction was not affected by the constant monitoring of work email.

Do you check your work email account when you're out of the office?

When that is not an option, the solution may be to establish boundaries on when electronic communication is acceptable during off-hours by setting up off-hour email windows or schedules when employees are available to respond.

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Additionally, organizational expectations should be communicated clearly. "Thus, we demonstrated that these normative expectations for work email monitoring during non-work hours is a significant stressor above and beyond actual workload and time spent on handling it during non-work hours", she said.

To mitigate the negative effects of after-hours expectations, the study authors suggest that employers help employees engage in mindfulness practices to reduce anxiety. If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities.

A study of 132 people by psychologists at the University of Hamburg found during during times away from work when they were expected to be contactable they had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva.

For employees, he hopes the study highlights the importance of refraining from skimming through work emails after hours.

A new study says it is unhealthy to even think about opening work emails at home.

Sadly, it is no more the normal 9-5 working hours. The promises of "flexible work boundaries" have turned into work without boundaries" and thanks to the array of devices that promise us to bring "closer', we fold our laptops and carry our work home every day, long after the office-hours.

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