Does the idea of checking your work email on weekends make you anxious? Does it feel like your phone is buzzing notifications even when its not?
It’s not just your imagination. Scientists have now identified after-hours email expectations as a significant work-related stress trigger.
Prior studies established high workload, time pressure, and interpersonal conflicts as job stressors. But data presented at the 2016 Academy of Management annual meeting from 297 working adults in industries like healthcare, finance, and technology found that after-hours email expectations negatively affected employee well-being, whether or not a formal company connectivity policy was in place.
The researchers point to “anticipatory stress” — a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty as a result of perceived or anticipated threats — as a factor preventing employees from fully disengaging from their jobs and creating emotional exhaustion. They noted that “the significant effect of expectations on work–family balance is present regardless of the actual time spent on emails.” The impact was more pronounced on individuals who prefer strict boundaries between their work and home lives.
“As prior research has shown, if people cannot disconnect from work and recuperate, it leads to burnout, higher turnover, more deviant behavior, lower productivity, and other undesirable outcomes,” says lead author Liuba Belkin, MBA, PhD, associate professor of management at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University.
Most employers and employees grapple with the “always on” nature of digital-age workplaces. The German government has enacted restrictions on after-hours emails; companies like Volkswagen and Deutsche Telekom have similar policies.
As of Jan. 1, 2017, thanks to a first-of-its-kind “right to disconnect law,” French employees have been granted a legal right to ignore work-related emails outside of the business day.
The French legislation mandates that companies with more than 50 employees implement policies limiting employee technology usage outside of working hours. The bill is somewhat controversial among French business owners and others concerned that usage limits may have negative implications in an increasingly technology-driven marketplace and culture.
If outright bans like the new French law aren’t possible, the study authors suggest establishing “email-free days” and rotating off-duty email schedules between employees.