In a new study, researchers say that it is not the amount of time spent on work emails, but the agonizing anticipation of always being “on call” that leads to employee exhaustion.
A study released this week suggests that answering emails after work hours could have a negative impact on your mental health and emotional well being. For the study, three professors from three US universities collected data from 297 working Americans across a variety of industries to determine the impact of constant work connectivity for the average employee. In their research, they found that answering emails outside of the office correlates with higher stress levels, lack of organizational productivity, and higher turnover rates.
This comes on the heels of France’s new labor law, which made sending emails outside of work hours illegal at companies of 50 or more, allowing workers the “right to disconnect.”
Liuba Belkin, Associate Professor of Management at Lehigh University and one of the study’s authors, tells Broadly that while the average worker spends roughly eight hours per week responding to work emails outside of work, it’s not necessarily the amount of time spent emailing but the anticipatory stress associated with being “on call” that can lead to an employee’s dissatisfaction with their work-life balance.
“We really did the study for managers and leaders of companies,” says Belkin. “We wanted to show that having this kind of culture is damaging to employees’ health and hampers their potential for success. Companies should recognize that they are only as good as their human capital.”
While most organizations don’t have formal policies in place requiring employees to be on call, informal company culture often determines how available workers feel they need to be. This can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle wherein employees feel the need to be more and more responsive in order to maintain their relationship with supervisors and succeed in their career. A similar phenomenon known aspresenteeism—in which employees feel the need to show up for work despite an illness—has also been shown to hinder performance. Because employees don’t necessarily have the freedom to change existing company culture, Belkin explains that it’s up to company leadership to implement solutions.
Any policy showing that you care about your employees will keep them happier and more productive.
She points to software some European companies use that automatically deletes emails sent after 10 PM or on weekends and vacation days. However, the authors realize many American companies may not be as willing to take such extreme measures. Instead, they suggest official “email-free” days or assigning specific times when employees will be considered “on call.” This kind of program ensures that workers can fully appreciate their time off without the anticipatory stress that can be so damaging to morale.
“Little tweaks can help keep employees sane,” says Belkin. “Any policy showing that you care about your employees will keep them happier and more productive.”