After-Hours Work Email No Friend of the Family

LaptopExpecting employees to be “on” all the time — monitoring and answering work-related email, even after work hours — adds to their emotional exhaustion and upsets work-family balance, a new study found.

Even when workers don’t spend time on email, being pinged during non-work hours is stressful, the researchers discovered. It’s the anticipation that’s draining.

“They still feel less ability to detach from work, more emotional exhaustion and low perceptions of work-family balance,” said study author Liuba Belkin. She’s an associate professor of management at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

Unwinding from work is especially hard for people who prefer to keep job and family life separate, the study revealed.
Ironically, Belkin insists that she’s not one of those people.

“I love what I’m doing, so for me the expectation [to act on work-related email after hours] doesn’t really bother me as much,” she said.

Still, experts say everyone needs time off, untethered from their inbox, to replenish their physical and mental resources.
Belkin and study co-authors, William Becker of Virginia Tech and Samantha Conroy of Colorado State University, believe their study may be one of the first to identify email expectations as a job stressor.

Constant electronic connectivity has changed the workplace for better and for worse, the researchers said. Yes, it aids job flexibility. But studies show it also poses a threat to employees’ health and well-being because they can’t physically or emotionally unplug from the job. And it can throw work-family balance out of kilter by blurring boundaries between business time and personal time.