Guess how many emails the average employee receives per day? 97. (source)
And guess how many employees check their work messages at least once a day over the weekend? 53%. (source)
With the relentless flow of emails to our inboxes, it is no wonder that we all feel pressure to constantly be available to check our work emails – even after hours.
We need to implement strategies to alleviate this pressure; in this blog, find out more about the toll this constant expectation of being available has not only on employees, but their families too.
The problem with checking emails after work
Recent research which surveyed employees and their family members was the first to show that the mere expectation that employees will monitor their email out of office hours (even if they do not actively engage) has detrimental effects on their own health – and also the health of their loved ones.
The modern working world means that employees believe they’re expected to constantly monitor their emails, and that it if this expectation is not fulfilled, their employee status or potential to advance within the company is hindered. This blurring of the line between work and home life can lead to negative feelings such as anxiety and devaluing of the self-concept.
Checking work emails after hours also has far-reaching implications for family members. It was found that the greater the employee’s conflict between work and family life the greater the strain put on their relationship with a loved one.
Other negative effects of checking work emails after hours
Reduction in sleep quality
Checking work emails before bed leads to a reduction in sleep quality, but also sleep duration. This is because work emails distract employees from sleeping, as well as exposing them more to electronic devices whose bright light reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for making humans feel sleepy.
Reduction in interest and enjoyment
Simply having work emails open at home can reduce the extent to which employees are interested in and enjoy face-to-face interactions with others around them. This split focus reduces both the quality and the quantity of real-world communication.
Communicating with work colleagues face-to-face rather than by email is much more effective, as non-verbal cues can be taken into account and stronger relationships can be formed. Always opt for face-to-face or phone call conversations if you have the chance.
How can we overcome this problem?
If employees are expected to be available during non-work hours, this should be stated as part of the job responsibilities rather than just assumed. Being aware of these expectations upfront should, to some extent, reduce anxiety and increase understanding from family members.
Other suggestions include encouraging employees to remove push notifications on their phone so that they are not notified every time they receive an email. Alternatively, employees can set themselves goals to only check their email a certain number of times per hour or day.
Companies in Germany have taken this a step further. For example, Volkswagen have set their servers to stop routing emails to their employees 30 minutes after the end of the working day and then start again 30 minutes before they return to work. Similarly, at Daimler, employees can set their email software to automatically delete any incoming emails received whilst they are on holiday. The software notifies the sender that the recipient is out of office and the email will be deleted and gives them the contact details of another employee if the matter is urgent.
Employees and employers need to listen to the science that warns them of the detrimental effects associated with the urge to constantly check emails.
Checking emails after work hours not only has a negative impact on employee anxiety levels but also places a strain on their well-being and their relationships with loved ones. It appears that, if this issue is going to be solved effectively, employees and employers need to come together to create realistic expectations that set in motion changes that have the potential to alleviate this problem.