Switch on the out-of-office and step away from your inbox. A new study has found that responding to work emails out of hours can take a huge toll on your mental health and home life.
Researchers at Virginia Tech University surveyed 142 full-time workers and their S.O’s about their employers’ expectations and relationship satisfaction.
Interestingly, those who felt obligated to monitor professional emails outside of their 9-5 reported higher levels of anxiety and lower measures of wellbeing.
“The competing demands of work and non-work lives present a dilemma for employees, which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives,” explained the study’s co-author, William Becker.
But it wasn’t just the amount of time spent online that was found to be the problem – rather, the stress associated with always being “on call.” What’s more, the partners of these employees also experienced a decrease in wellbeing, health and relationship satisfaction, suggesting this behaviour caused a “spillover effect.”
“The insidious impact of ‘always on’ organisational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit – increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries,” Becker added.
“Our research exposes the reality, [that] ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and wellbeing.’
So, what’s the answer here?
According to Liuba Belkin, an associate professor of management at Lehigh University and the study’s co-author, changing the way businesses approach technology expectations is key.
“Organisations could set off-hour email windows and limit use of electronic communications outside of those windows or set up email schedules when various employees are available to respond,” she told TIME. “The basic idea would be to create boundaries for employees.”
Prioritising exercise that counter job-related anxiety – such as meditation – is equally as important.
“Mindfulness training has been shown to be an effective approach to reducing anxiety and work-related negative affect,” Belkin said. “Even though employees cannot control email expectations, mindfulness is a practise within the control of the employee.”