Study confirms that checking emails out of work hours makes us ’emotionally exhausted’

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  • Another reason to log off after hours

    The fact that we can fire off a work email at 3am may have its perks – especially if you bolt awake realising you’ve forgotten to sign something off. But feeling the need to be ‘on’ work emails out of hours can be a source of stress in itself.

    Portable tech has made working hours increasingly blurred, and a new study proves that the pressure to keep on top of incoming work mail is genuinely detrimental to our mental health.

    The study by three American universities on just shy of 300 working adults outlines that the expectation of after-hours emailing leads to ’emotional exhaustion’ and damages our work-family balance.

    Our inability to relax and ‘switch off’ with emails hanging over us isn’t just down to the volume hitting our inbox, either. There’s also the ‘anticipatory stress’ of responding to messages you’ve not even received yet. Like when you’re waiting on an email from your boss to drop and you keep refreshing for it.

    ‘Email is notoriously known to be the impediment of the recovery process. Its accessibility contributes to experience of work overload since it allows employees to engage in work as if they never left the workspace, and at the same time, inhibits their ability to psychologically detach from work-related issues via continuous connectivity,’ the authors write.

    The authors pinpoints the worrying extent to which losing your sense of work-life balance can effect your wellbeing, stressing: ‘Satisfaction with the balance between work and family domains is important for individual health and wellbeing, while individual inability to successfully balance roles in those domains can lead to anxiety and depression, lowered satisfaction with both work and family roles, absenteeism, decreased job productivity and organisational commitment and greater turnover.’

    Whether the pressure is coming from your boss or the need to measure up to colleagues who are more responsive outside their 9 to 5 it’s definitely a toxic culture.

    And there’s firm proof that without the pressure of presenteeism we could all be a lot happier. Just look at the Danes who frown upon overtime, have regular hours and are consistently reported to have the best work-life balance in the world. A recent OECD study shows that the average professional in Denmark works just 33 hours a week.

    Add to this the recently introduced French laws which include ‘the right to disconnect’, and it’s tempting to up sticks and move. But for more of a short-term solution, imposing your own out-of-hours email ban, or at least doing so once or twice a week, could be key to relinquishing that elusive work-home balance.

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