The expectation that employees will monitor work email during non-work hours can negatively impact both the worker and their significant other, new research shows.
Your “flexible” work culture could be taking a toll on your personal life — and your partner’s, too.
The mere expectation that employees will monitor work email during non-work hours can increase anxiety and have a negative effect on workers’ health and relationship satisfaction, according to new research published in the Academy of Management Proceedings — regardless of how much time they actually spend on work email. This expectation also negatively affects the health and relationship satisfaction of employees’ significant others, the study found.
“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before. Organizational electronic communication expectations appear to increase this burden as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their nonwork time,” the authors concluded. “Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever given our findings that not only are employees affected by these expectations, but so are their families.”
The findings point to “the insidious downsides of electronic communication norms,” the authors wrote in their paper, including their crossover effects on family members. “Now, our work comes with us everywhere,” lead study author William Becker, an associate professor of management at Virginia Tech, told Moneyish. “We’re not getting out of that work mindset, and we’re not actually present with our family.”
“Even when people don’t actually engage with emails, just knowing that (they’re) expected to reply really kind of obstructs their meaningful relationship with their spouse,” added co-author Liuba Belkin, an associate professor of management at Lehigh University. “This expectation really robs you (of) engagement with other non-work-related activities.”
Thirty percent of Americans have their work email open constantly, according to a separate 2016 survey of 1,000 people, while 54% check multiple times a day and 16% check once daily or less. Seven in 10 people first check work email between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., and seven in 10 also perform their last work email check after 6 p.m.
“You can be responsive and you can be connected,” Becker said. “You just really need to carve out chunks of time where you turn off.”
Here’s how leaders can help their employees do just that:
Be crystal clear with employees about what’s expected. “If I want you to be responsive, maybe we both understand that, but I don’t really understand that to mean you’re going to check (email) every hour,” Becker said. “Leaders need to think more intentionally about what that means, and be very clear: ‘I would like you to check twice each evening, and I want you to have at least two hours where you don’t check at all,’” for example.
Recognize that they may be starting a “vicious cycle” when they send a routine email during non-work hours, Belkin said, as employees tend to mimic their bosses’ behavior.
If it’s not possible for employees to disconnect entirely during off hours or time off, Belkin added, managers might designate a rotation in which certain people are available and online for certain days of the week.
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