It is not the work e-mails but the expectation to check them after hours that is hurting employees’ health and relationships.
Researchers from Virginia Tech surveyed 108 employees working at least 30 hours per week, 138 significant others and 105 managers and found that the sheer expectation of monitoring work email, rather than the amount of time spent doing so, led to increased anxiety in both employees and their significant others.
"Anxiety can manifest in several ways, including changes in appetite, concentration, focus and decreased quality of sleep. It makes people less productive in their work and home lives," Dr. Lama Bazzi, who is part of the American Psychiatric Association Board of Directors, told ABC News.
During the research, some of the employees admitted to monitoring their work email from every hour to every few minutes, resulting in higher levels of anxiety and conflict between spouses. Their significant others confirmed the same and reported decreased relationship satisfaction in contrast to employees themselves, whose satisfaction was not affected by the constant monitoring of work email.
Identifying the negative impact of working after office hours, France had introduced the “right to disconnect” bill. The law required companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. One of the goals of the law was to make sure that employees are paid fairly for work. The bill also aimed at preventing burnout by protecting employees’ private time.
Inspired by this French act, the city Councilman Rafael Espinal Jr also proposed the same bill in New York City.
Under the proposed “right-to-disconnect” bill in NYC, private companies with more than 10 employees would be banned from requiring their workers to respond to electronic work communications (email, text and others) after work hours and businesses would be fined at least $250 for each instance of non-compliance.
One of the researchers of the study, Professor William Becker hopes that the study will encourage leaders to be proactive and have clear policies that allow employees to be engaged and present in their personal lives. He also hopes to shift the onus onto employees to not fall into the trap of glancing at email after hours.
As studies like these highlight the importance of mental health and the implications work-related stress can have on the personal relationships of employees, there is only hope that businesses and employees themselves become mindful of these negative impacts and truly find a balance between work and life.