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Night e-mails harm employee's health, productivity - Research

Night e-mails harm employee's health, productivity - ResearchEarlier this year, France passed a labour reform law that banned checking emails on weekends. New research suggests other countries might do well to follow suit.

The study -- authored by Liuba Belkin of Lehigh University, William Becker of Virginia Tech and Samantha A. Conroy of Colorado State University -- finds a link between organisational after-hours email expectations and emotional exhaustion, which hinders work-family balance. The results suggest that modern workplace technologies may be hurting the very employees that those technologies were designed to help.

Using data collected from 365 working adults, Belkin and her colleagues look at the role of organisational expectation regarding "off" hour emailing and find it negatively impacts employee emotional states, leading to "burnout" and diminished work-family balance, which is essential for individual health and well-being. The study -- described in an article entitled "Exhausted, but unable to disconnect: the impact of email-related organisational expectations on work-family balance" -- is the first to identify email-related expectations as a job stressor along with already established factors such as high workload, interpersonal conflicts, physical environment or time pressure.

Previous research has shown that in order to restore resources used during the day at work, employees must be able to detach both mentally and physically from work.

"Email is notoriously known to be the impediment to the recovery process. Its accessibility contributes to the experience of work overload since it allows employees to engage in work as if they never left the workspace, and at the same time, inhibits their ability to psychologically detach from work-related issues via continuous connectivity," write the authors.

Interestingly, they found that it is not the amount of time spent on work emails, but the expectation which drives the resulting sense of exhaustion. Due to anticipatory stress -- defined as a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty as a result of perceived or anticipated threats, according to research cited in the article -- employees are unable to detach and feel exhausted regardless of the time spent on after-hours emails.

"This suggests that organisational expectations can steal employee resources even when the actual time is not required because employees cannot fully separate from work," state the authors.

"We believe our findings have implications for organisations, as even though in the short run being "always on" may seem like a good idea because it increases productivity, it can be dangerous in the long-run," said Belkin.

The authors suggest that if completely banning email after work is not an option, managers could implement weekly "email free days." Another idea is to offer rotating after-hours email schedules to help employees manage their work and family time more efficiently.
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