An interesting study was presented this summer during the annual meeting of the Academy of Management. The study was authored by Liuba Belkin, an associate professor at Lehigh University; William Becker, an associate professor at Virginia Tech University; and Samantha Conroy, an assistant professor at Colorado State University.
According to this research, there is a risk of emotional and physical exhaustion when employees feel obligated to check their e-mails during non-work hours. This is what happen when employees cannot detach themselves from work. Companies should get rid of these bad habits in order to increase productivity and make people happier.
#1 The Strong Influence of Workplace Culture
As the authors of this study say, “an ‘always on’ culture with high expectations to monitor and respond to emails during non-work time may prevent employees from ever fully disengaging from work, leading to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion”. In others words, workplace cultures are a source of stress for employees because they are expecting to do their best at all time, even during non-work hours. These high expectations represent “the main culprit of individual inability to disconnect” as the authors wrote.
For their study, researchers conducted surveys of 600 working adults who were recruited from a business school alumni association and LinkedIn interest groups and who had jobs in a wide variety of industries and organizations.
The first survey asked how many hours a week participants devoted to after-hours email, what type of expectations their employer has for them to respond to emails after work, their levels of psychological detachment from work and emotional exhaustion and how they feel about having to think about work issues while at home. A follow-up survey a week later inquired about their work-life balance.
The study’s authors discovered that the participants spent an average of about 8 hours a week reading and responding to company-related emails after hours, with greater amounts associated with less ability to detach from work. However, it was the expectations to read and respond to emails that caused greater issues.
#2 A Vicious Circle
We all know that there is a lot of source of job stress such as interpersonal conflict or high workload. But the authors say, theirs is the first to identify email-related expectations as a job stressor.
Other studies have shown, however, that employees must be able to detach from work, both mentally and physically, in order to restore their resources and avoid burnout.
And, of course, it’s no secret that continuous connectivity prevents that kind of detachment from happening.
Email is notoriously known to be the impediment of the recovery process, the authors write. Its accessibility contributes to experience of work overload since it allows employees to engage in work as if they never left the workspace.
Employers should take this research into consideration because it can have a negative effect on their company’s performance. Indeed, Liuba Belkin, the co-author of this study, said that “if an organisation perpetuates the ‘always on’ culture it may prevent employees from fully disengaging from work eventually leading to chronic stress”.
Moreover, plenty of previous research shows that displeasure with work-life balance can also lead to anxiety, depression, absenteeism, and decreased job productivity. Even though in the short run being ‘always on’ may seem like a good idea because it increases productivity, it can be dangerous in the long-run.
If banning email after work isn’t a practical option for companies, Belkin suggests that managers implement weekly “email-free days” or institute a rotating schedule for employees to be on-call after hours. Some countries go more far away like France where week-end work emails are now illegal.
But that’s not all. To really benefit employees, the authors suggest, companies have to truly follow through with these policies – not just say that they exist. In other words, we need to feel secure that our bosses truly value work-family balance, and that it’s okay to unplug for the evening or the weekend.
This research shows the importance of company culture regarding employees but also that employees must detach from work. At the end what matters most is that work day should ensure people to have enough energy to pursue their private lives when they leave work.
And you, what policy does your company have implemented concerning after-work e-mail?
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