People who find it hard to resist checking their work emails after hours may be putting their health at risk, according to a new study conducted by Virginia Tech and Lehigh University. Not only that, but those who can’t leave work at the office may be harming their relationships at home too.
The study examined the health of 142 couples working full time, and found that all of them had harmful anxiety levels. These levels were higher in people with a poor work-life balance, and those who were unable to switch off after leaving work.
The study suggests that checking your emails can turn into “work without boundaries”, leaving employees unable to switch off due to increased demands on their time.
This issue not only creates anxiety for the overworked individual, but can also cause stress for those living with the family member who cannot separate their home life and work life.
Other studies have shown that these expectations can lead to conflict in family relationships when the worker is unable to fulfill their roles in the home.
“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,” said William Becker, co-author of the study, titled “Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being.”
According to the findings, employees do not need to work in their spare time to suffer from stress or anxiety. The mere expectation of constant availability is enough to trigger negative consequences for an employee’s health and personal life.
“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 noted.
“Our research exposes the reality: ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”
To deal with the problems presented by this trend, it was suggested that employers should state in job descriptions if email availability is a requirement, and introduce out-of-hours windows where workers don’t have to check their inbox, if necessary. Expectations must be communicated formally and clearly to employees, commented Becker, as knowing this in advance could decrease anxiety levels and disruption.
Mindfulness could also be used by employees to deal with anxiety. The practice would allow people to be more present in the home, leading to improved relationship satisfaction, and healthy disengagement from work.
“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before,” said Becker. “Employer expectations during nonwork hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their nonwork time.
“Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations.