Verifying emails after work harms your health, your relationships

The new study finds that mere expectation results in tension and anxiety, for them and their partners or children

People who check work emails after they leave the office and barely wake up underestimate the harmful effects it has on their health and relationships.

One study found that "flexible work limits" increase stress levels and push workers to become insular and less aware of social environments.

All university employees surveyed by Virginia Tech University had levels of anxiety that could be detrimental to their health.

But few of them realized how serious that damage was, and none of them calculated that it also left their partners very stressed.

The new study finds that mere expectation results in tension and anxiety, for them and their partners or children

The new study finds that mere expectation results in tension and anxiety, for them and their partners or children

"The competitive demands of work and non-work lives present a dilemma for employees, which triggers feelings of anxiety and jeopardizes work and personal life," said co-author William Becker, associate professor of administration at Pamplin College of Business.

The finding adds to growing evidence that "flexible work limits" often become "work without borders," where bosses assume that staff will never disconnect.

Concern has already been expressed about millions of employees who read the messages before going to bed, and the first thing they do when they wake up.

Becker's study finds that mere expectation results in tension and anxiety, for them and their partners or children.

The document is the first to identify the phenomenon that has implications for office workers around the world.

Previous studies have shown that the stress caused by the increase in labor demands generates tensions and conflicts in family relationships.

This happens when the employee can not fulfill the non-work-at-home roles, such as when someone brings work home to finish, said Dr. Becker.

But the latest findings show that employees do not even have to engage in real work during non-working time for the effect to be seen.

This is different from work-related demands that increase the pressure, both physical and psychological, by requiring time away from home.

"The insidious impact of the organizational culture is always not explained or disguised as a benefit: greater convenience, for example, or greater autonomy and control over the limits of working life," said Dr. Becker.

"Our research exposes the reality, [that] "flexible work limits" often become "work without limits", compromising the health and well-being of an employee and his family. "

He said that policies that reduce expectations for monitoring electronic communication outside of work would be ideal.

When that is not an option, the solution may be to set limits on when electronic communication is acceptable after hours.

This could be by configuring windows or after-hours email programs when employees are available to respond. In addition, expectations must be clearly communicated.

Dr. Becker said: "If the nature of a job requires the availability of email, such expectations should be formally established as part of the job responsibilities."

Knowing these expectations in advance can reduce employee anxiety and increase the understanding of family members, he said.

As for the employees, they might consider the practice of mindfulness, which has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety.

Mindfulness can help employees to be present in family interactions, which could help reduce conflicts and improve relationship satisfaction.

And, he added, mindfulness is within the control of the employee when the expectations of the email are not.

Dr. Becker, who presents the study at a meeting of the Academy of Management in Chicago, added: "Today's employees must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before.

"Employer expectations during non-work hours seem to increase this burden, as employees feel compelled to change roles throughout their non-work time.

"Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our finding that the families of employees are also affected by these expectations."

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

Even when they were not required to be physically available in the office, the increase occurred.

This is because technology means that people can check their laptops, tablets and smartphones for emails, leading to a culture in which people must be constantly available for work, the researchers said.

In today's workforce, "work contacts and the availability of work outside of normal working hours are associated with well-being problems," the authors wrote in the study.

A previous study also found that checking emails from work at home or receiving a call from the boss on weekends could be harmful to health.

Another study of 57,000 people found that more than half worked outside their normal hours.

The researchers found that those who worked nights and weekends were more likely to complain of insomnia, headaches, fatigue, anxiety and stomach problems.

Muscle and cardiovascular problems were also related to work outside normal hours.

The scientists called for much stricter rules to stop the work that invades the home life of people.

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