The Cost of Being Connected to Work 24/7
Interpreting the data
According to Gallup, more than one-third of people frequently check work email outside business hours. For some, the constant connection is a burden.
Other research draws a straight line from after-hours email expectations to emotional exhaustion and lower quality of life. One of its authors says people need relief. “They are not able to separate from work when they go home, which is when they are supposed to be recovering their resources.”
Some organizations are taking it seriously
A handful of U.S. companies have banned internal emails entirely. Their employees communicate by voice, in person or using various technologies.
Volkswagen servers stop routing emails 30 minutes after an employee’s shift, starting up 30 minutes before a new one. Huffington Post automatically deletes or archives messages when an out-of-office responder is in place.
Intel went further, testing Tuesday mornings without email, meetings or any interruptions at all. They saw improved effectiveness and quality of life for employees in diverse roles.
Let’s not forget that a whole country—France—has banned weekend work emails.
The productivity assumption may be debunked
Some experts suggest that expected productivity gains from extra connectivity may be nonexistent, citing that people who unplug from email are more focused. It’s logical that frequent interruptions would cause more fragmented work patterns and lower productivity.
Surprise factor: engagement
Gallup presents an interesting exception to the conclusion that off-hours work email is categorically destructive. Their research tracks committed employees against those less committed, revealing an unexpected sense of well-being that persists among engaged employees in spite of expectations they stay in touch. For highly motivated employees, work email doesn’t register as a burden.
Conversely, those less engaged in achieving organizational goals bear the brunt of negative effects. They are most burdened by after-hours emails.
What employers can do
As suggested by Gallup, email policies connect to the broader goal of nurturing employee commitment. There are many dimensions to the nurturing effort, but at minimum, at least some communication should surround any imposition on personal time.
- Respect personal time by acknowledging it
- Make it official that off-hours communication is voluntary, so people feel better about it
- Thank employees for extra effort
- Encourage people to delegate, so they can take vacations without dreading their return
Making EAP counseling available gives employees a productive outlet for expressing work stress, whether interpersonal or related to their workload. Call Mayo Clinic Employee Assistance Center at 608-392-9530 or 800-493-3960.