Recently France approved a proposed law which gives employees a "right to disconnect." The legislation obliges companies to shield their people from the kind of after hours work email barrage that's pretty much standard practice over here in the U.S.
Which, if you're regularly up late at night fielding meeting requests and anxiety-laden missives from your boss, probably sounds pretty good. But then again the French are, well, French. They're known for their fierce commitment to the good life, fine wine, and plenty of leisure. In that light, this new law could also appear to be just another unaffordable continental luxury for overworked Americans to dream about while they try to dig out of their never ending inbox avalanche.
But it turns out, curbing the boss's ability to pester his or her people in the evenings isn't just about enjoying the finer things in life. Constant connectivity doesn't just potentially burn you out and burden your family, it can also make you physically sick, research suggests.
The more you check email the more likely you are to get sick.
That's the bottom line takeaway of a recent post on the Association for Psychological Science blog, highlighting a handful of new studies on the effects of after hours email. Predictably this research shows that being electronically tethered to your job 24/7 is stressful, and can lead to burnout and exhaustion. You probably didn't need a massive German study with some 24,000 participants to tell you that, but if you did, it exists. So do a number of other studies linking after hours email with general stress.
Perhaps more surprising for some will be a previous study drawing on data from the 4th European Survey on Working Conditions that shows constant connectivity doesn't just lead to burnout, but to an increase in the likelihood of a coming down with a variety of physical ailments.
Here's the money sentence from the APS post: "The results revealed that people who reported more after hours contact from work also reported higher rates of health issues, such as musculoskeletal pain and cardiovascular conditions." Or to put it even more bluntly, the more you check email after hours, the more likely you are to end up sick.
The takeaway for bosses and employees.
Given the well known link between psychological stress and physical symptoms, that's hardly the shock of the century, but as you're madly trying to clean our your inbox at 9pm it's easy to lose sight of the connection between this sort of behavior and your aches and pains come morning.
But even if you've got this connection clear in your mind, what's to be done? America is obviously not France, and especially given the current administration, it's highly unlikely we'll see a big surge in legislation to protect workers' anytime soon. But that doesn't mean that bosses and employees can't take rational steps to minimize the harm of after hours email themselves.
There's plenty of advice for leaders on how to set healthy boundaries and help your people avoid tech-related burnout. Even companies like Google are experimenting with programs that ask employees to hand over their work gadgets before leaving for the night. If fast-moving tech giants can manage to give their people a break, surely plenty of other businesses can too.