Expecting Work Email After Hours Can Stress Employees & Families

Monitoring work email during non-work hours is detrimental to the health and well-being of not only employees, but their family members as well, according to new research.

“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, Ph.D., a Virginia Tech associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business, who co-authored the new study.

Other studies have shown that the stress of increased job demands leads to strain and conflict in family relationships when the employee is unable to fulfill non-work roles at home because they brought work home.

However, the new study demonstrates that employees do not need to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects, according to the researcher.

The mere expectations of availability increases the strain for employees and their significant others, even when employees do not engage in actual work during non-work time, he explained.

“The insidious impact of ‘always on’ organizational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit — increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries,” Becker said.

“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.”

As negative health outcomes are costly, what can employers do to mitigate the adverse effects identified by the study? Becker said policies that reduce expectations to monitor electronic communication outside of work would be ideal.

When that is not an option, the solution may be to establish boundaries on when electronic communication is acceptable during off-hours by setting up off-hour email windows or schedules when employees are available to respond.

Additionally, organizational expectations should be communicated clearly, he said.

“If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities,” he said.

Knowing these expectations upfront may reduce anxiety in employees and increase understanding from their family members, he said.

Employees also should try practicing mindfulness, which has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety, according to Becker.

Mindfulness may help employees “be present” in family interactions, which could help reduce conflict and improve relationship satisfaction, he explained. Additionally, mindfulness is within the employee’s control when email expectations are not, he said.

“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before,” said Becker.

“Employer expectations during non-work hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their non-work time. Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations.”

Source: Virginia Tech

Photo: A new study demonstrates that employees do not need to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects. The mere expectations of availability increase strain for employees and their significant others — even when employees do not engage in actual work during nonwork time. Credit: Virginia Tech.

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