24/7 Work Emails Are Hurting Your Health and Relationships
By Heather Callaghan, Editor
Bosses call it “work flexibility,” but the expectation to be accessible during non-work hours through our smart devices is really a chaotic (and unpaid) lack of boundaries that hurts the other parts of our lives.
You probably aren’t surprised. Getting work emails 24/7 can suck the life out of life whether you act upon them or not.
That’s not just me saying that. Researchers have definitively proven that the mere presence of work emails in our home-life negatively impacts our health, relationships and non-work life.
As I said in my article about work productivity hacks, getting hit with work emails on your phone before you even get ready for your job can be a depressing start to your day.
How depressing? Researchers from Lehigh University want you to rethink your relationship with tech because “personal relationships and home life suffer for those tied to their work emails round-the-clock.”
The study is the first to test the relationship between organizational expectations to monitor work-related electronic communication during non-work hours and the health and relationship satisfaction of employees and their significant others.
In “Killing Me Softly: Electronic Communications Monitoring and Employee and Spouse Well-Being,” researchers report that such expectations are “an insidious stressor that not only increases employee anxiety, decreases their relationship satisfaction and has detrimental effects on employee health, but also that it negatively affects partner (significant other) health and marital satisfaction perceptions,” said Liuba Belkin, associate professor of management at Lehigh University. Belkin co-authored the article with William Becker of Virginia Tech, Samantha A. Conroy of Colorado State University, and Sarah Tuskey, a Virginia Tech doctoral student.
Regardless of how much time individuals actually spent monitoring and answering work emails outside of work hours, the mere presence of organizational expectations to monitor email outside of work led to employee anxiety and negative effects on well-being, which also affected their partners (spouses/significant others), Belkin said.
Belkin calls it the “spillover effect” and says:
…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.
This new study, to be published in Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings “builds upon earlier work by the researchers that examined organizational expectations to monitor email and its effects on employees’ ability to detach from work, emotional exhaustion and work-family balance perceptions.”
For instance, an earlier study called “Exhausted, But Unable to Disconnect: The Impact of Email-Related Organizational Expectations on Work-Family Balance” demonstrated that the email-expectation should be among other well-known job stressors like unreasonable workload.
What are we all to do?
Unfortunately, the only solution that researchers could offer individuals is this vague, catch-all term known as “mindfulness.” And that’s really a lame answer.
Mindfulness is a simple practice, but what is it really? Well, mindful eating is when you put all your consciousness into the act of eating so that you aren’t so disconnected from your food or body. It helps with focus and intuition. I suppose the mindfulness Belkin is referring to is in regards to being mindful at home, in your non-work identity. Frankly, it’s a great life practice, especially if you work from home full-time. BUT – employees shouldn’t have to take responsibility for bad behavior and perform jedi-mind-tricks to keep handling more work at night. That’s like coming across an indentured servant who works 20 hours a day and telling them to try yoga.
As for companies, researchers offer the ideal that non-workplace communications should be limited to the workplace. But they acknowledge that some industries require off-site actions. The researchers propose that employers be upfront about their expectations instead of using unspoken pressure as a means of control.
It’s still an employers’ market so some of the behavior I’ve heard coming from hiring managers is downright ridiculous. Not only are there expectations to be more at the manager’s beck-and-call than a medieval serf, but also there are expectations on employees to use their own funds for company needs. Sometimes they try and pressure people to stay childless because they may fear not having an employee accessible at all times. People really underestimate the spiritual toll that work expectations have on a person – think about how much time we spend at the workplace, anyway!
I worked at a small business that began surveilling all computer activity and doling out write-ups for even one minute of “time-theft.” But the demand for time only worked one way. There was no respect for employee time, not even outside the workplace. This person gave out a phone as a work requirement and then because of the magnanimous “gift” expected that any emails that came in be answered immediately. It’s just my observation, but people who are stuck in the age of dinosaurs (I call them “tyrannical-saurus rexes”) typically run roughshod over their employees, like, for instance, forgetting to pay in a timely manner or scheduling meetings on vacation time. The expectations they demand most from their employees are often their own biggest deficits – and honestly, no one deserves that kind of disrespect.
Honestly, there needs to be more boundary-setting coming from individuals when these expectations rear their ugly heads. In the long-run, the best work comes from refreshed employees anyway. If your employer treats you like cattle, then stampede right out of their and into a job that deserves you.
Seriously, though – Work Less – Your Life Depends On It…
Awesome Career Resources:
- Liz Ryan articles on LinkedIn and Forbes – Get your mojo back!
- Escaping Career Prison: Three Keys to Breaking Free and Finding Work You Love
- Tell Your Boss You’re Officially Done With Multitasking
- The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do
- What Long Work Hours Do to Women’s Health
- A Better Plan Than College: 11 Steps To Change Your Life
Did you ever have to battle the 24/7 work emails? Tell us about it below!
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