Over the past couple of decades, checking work email on your off hours has become a pretty commonplace practice. Now new research finds the mere expectation that you'll check those work-related messages is actually harmful to your health, and not just for you, but for your family too.
"The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees... which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives," explains Virginia Tech professor William Becker who co-authored a new study laying out the findings.
Becker has published previous research on the harmful stress that comes with the expectation that you're reachable even when you're not at the office or on duty.
But this new study, which was presented earlier this month at the Academy of Management annual meeting in Chicago, goes further in suggesting that working in an 'always on' organizational culture is a strain on both workers and their families.
"Our research exposes the reality: 'flexible work boundaries' often turn into 'work without boundaries,' compromising an employee's and their family's health and well-being," Becker says.
An obvious solution for employers is to implement policies that reduce the expectations for monitoring email outside normal work hours. Also, Becker says just making sure expectations are communicated clearly from the outset can help reduce email anxiety.
"If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities."
If there's just no way around checking work email from home or even at play, Becker suggests employees could practice mindfulness to reduce anxiety and get the most out of family interactions before distractions crop up. Such practices are one way for an employee to take control of their situation, even when the expectation of email responsiveness is beyond their control.