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Opening Your Emails After Hours Could Be Slowly Killing You, Study Finds

“Even if you resist the perverse urge to open your work email at 3pm on a Saturday, the mere thought that you should could harm your mental health.”

Guilty non-pleasure, ingrained habit, that-thing-you-have-to-do-to-keep-your-job—whatever you call the sense of dread responsibility that comes over you when you decide to open that ever increasing pile of correspondence, it’s probably even worse for you than you thought.

Sure: you’re well aware it’s a pain, but what you probably didn’t know, which has just been discovered by a team of scientists in Virginia, is that even if you resist the perverse urge to open your work email at 3pm on a Saturday, the mere thought that you should could harm your mental health—and compromise the well being of your family.

William Becker, the author of the study, “Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being,” demonstrated this by researching the effect the expectation of being expected to check your work email out of hours has on volunteers and their family’s anxiety levels.

“The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees… which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives,” he said.

What he found was surprising. Although previous studies have proven working extra hours has a negative impact on family life, this study showed that the mere expectation that employees would be “on call” (with regard to email) significantly affected their mental health and family life—even if they were never actually emailed during “nonwork” time.


Unlike work-related demands that deplete employee resources, physical and psychological, by requiring time away from home (e.g. business trips), “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.”

Seeing as these negative health outcomes are (in the long run) costly to employers too, Becker recommended companies, where possible, reduce expectations to monitor electronic communication outside of work.

As reported by Science Daily, “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.”

Another key issue, Becker said, was that organisational expectations should be communicated upfront.

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

The study suggested that knowing these expectations in advance may reduce anxiety in employees and increase understanding from their family members. He also suggested people struggling with these issues explore mindfulness and meditation—skills which teach you to relax, and focus only on what you can control.

This area of study will only become more important as, “Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before,” (Academy of Management). In the meantime, here’s a state of mind we should all aspire to…


RELATED: Cool Home Office Ideas That Will Make You Love Work 

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