Banning access to work emails after hours can harm your mental health (seriously)
There’s a fine line between taking time out and feeling left out.
Not checking work emails after hours may sound like a welcome relief from the 24/7 work culture where managers expect their subordinates to be hooked up to their smartphone at all hours, but banning employees altogether from email during certain hours can backfire, new research suggests.
Anxiety-prone workers who aren’t allowed to access work email on weekends and after hours could experience a decline in their well-being, a recent study from the University of Sussex published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found.
“People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their work load,” said lead author Emma Russell, a psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of Sussex Business School.
The research comes as large companies from Volkswagen
to the grocery chain Lidl have experimented with cutting off access to office emails during non-work hours. In France, workers now have the legal “right to disconnect” from work and New York City lawmakers have discussed a proposal to ban after-hours emails.
The most recent study surveyed 341 participants on their work email activities and conducted interviews with 28 others. Employees usually have one of four goals in mind when they answer work emails, researchers found: showing concern for a coworker, getting their work done effectively, preserving their own well-being, or having control over their work.
If an employee’s goal is to prioritize work performance, even well-intentioned bans on work email could be unwelcome, researchers said. It’s critical that employees have the ability to control their response to emails, the researchers said. That observation ties into previous research about the relationship between consistent work practices and happiness at work.
However, being connected comes at a high cost. More than one in five workers say they’ve checked work email in the middle of the night, and more than half say they read their work email while they’re still in bed right after they wake up in the morning, a 2019 study of 2,000 employees by One Poll concluded.
Workers experience more burnout and are more likely to leave their jobs when they use their mobile devices during off hours, previous research has shown. There can also be a negative ripple effect on an employee’s loved ones when they’re glued to their Gmail
A 2018 study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that when employees do work on their smartphones during family time, it negatively affects their spouse’s job performance and job satisfaction.
Simply the expectation that workers should be available to answer messages during off hours can increase anxiety levels for both employees and their family members, one Virginia Tech study found.