"Do I read this email now or later? Do I file it? Do I forward it? Do I have to get more information? Do I put it in the spam folder? -- that's a handful of decisions right there, and you haven't done anything meaningful. It puts us into a brain state of decision fatigue." -- Daniel Levitin
The e-mail message is, theoretically, supposed to be a simple thing. It is a fast and easy method of communication, and takes mere seconds to complete and send to colleagues, business partners, and recipients around the world.
But for such an uncomplicated messaging system, it sure can cause a lot of problems -- particularly when it comes to work.
It turns out you don't have to actually even be sending a lot of work email to feel its negative effects -- a new study shows that simply expecting to check work email can have major detrimental effects on your health, well-being, and family relationships.
The study, "Killing Me Softly: Electronic Communications Monitoring and Employee and Significant-Other Well-Being," showed that when an employee expects to monitor work email during non-work hours, feelings of anxiety are triggered, thus endangering work and personal lives.
Being readily available for work-related tasks is found to "increase strain for employees and their significant others" -- even when actual work during non-work time is not even being performed.
This is a different kind of effect created by work-related demands that require time away from home. William Becker, Virginia Tech associate professor of management and co-author of the study, says "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." The "impact of 'always on' organizational culture is "insidious," and often unaccounted for says Becker.
So what is the key to improving work and family life? As an employer, recognize that expecting your workers to be available for work items and e-mail monitoring 24/7 is not healthy, not productive, and costly. Reduce expectations and communicate them clearly.
As an employee, practice mindfulness, which is known to be effective for reducing anxiety and improving family relationship satisfaction. Remember to "be present" in your interactions, and do not be afraid to close your laptop and put away your phone. You may soon find that the benefits of better family relationships far outweigh any loss of business productivity you might experience outside the office.