People today are more connected than ever, what with their smartphones/tablets and fast mobile data connections. Couple this with the busy working lives most lead and the always-on work culture that’s become almost expected in most organisations, and it’s easy to see why so many people regularly check their work emails in the evenings.
But while it’s a practise that many people believe does no harm, feedback from their partners says otherwise, according to a new study.
In collaboration with researchers from Lehigh and Colorado State universities, William Becker, who studies workforce emotions at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, wanted to discover what impact monitoring work emails outside of office hours has on individuals and their partners.
The study of full-time workers aged 31 to 40 revealed that habitual off-duty email checkers didn’t think their actions caused strife at home. However, when their other halves were quizzed, they revealed a different story, complaining that the behaviour really tried their patience.
Becker and his fellow researchers found that employees who check work emails outside of office hours experience more anxiety and ill health. But even worse is the discovery that their partners reported raised stress levels too.
Flexible Working Practises Could Be To Blame
In a paper that was presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting in Chicago recently, Becker wrote about how our always-on culture could be contributing to the national epidemic (in the US) of poorer mental health.
Becker cited the flexible working practises employed by many companies, which see many hand out smartphones and laptops to employees, as a potential reason for people being unable to switch off.
“The problem with flexibility is we’re unable to turn off,” Becker said.
For the study, Becker and his team asked full-time workers from a range of sectors, including government, healthcare, teaching, the tech industry and banking and finance, to complete a questionnaire relating to their out of work email checking habits, anxiety levels and wellbeing. Their partners and bosses were also quizzed.
Regardless of whether they were male or female, those who checked their emails the most reported the greatest levels of stress and the lowest wellbeing score. More worrying, though, is that this spilled over to their loved ones too.
Becker wants organisations to do more to help their employees overcome this reality going forward. For example, by declaring a 7pm cut-off time for checking emails and imposing message-free periods, he says, companies could alleviate the stress on their workers.
Furthermore, if managers need to send emails late at night, they should clearly indicate that they are not expecting a response immediately.
We recently wrote about how physical activity is linked to improved mental health. So an evening spent exercising and not checking emails could make a world of difference to people who are feeling stressed.
The next time you reach for your smartphone outside office hours to check your work messages, think about not only the impact it could be having on your own mental health but the mental health of your loved ones too.
I joined Premier Choice Group as a Healthcare & Protection Consultant in 2017, where I now look after the needs of over 200 clients nationwide. Prior to joining the Premier Choice Group, I worked for a large Private Healthcare Insurer, VitalityHealth, and managed SME and Individual clients across the country.