CLEVELAND, OHIO – Whether it’s just one more email to send or just one more message to respond to before we sit down for dinner – many of us have found ourselves pouring over work emails after hours.
But according to one recent study, checking those work messages round-the-clock is taking a toll on our health.
The study surveyed a group of 108 employees who worked at least 30 hours per week, as well their significant others, and their managers.
Researchers found that employees who had an expectation to check messages after hours experienced anxiety and strain on their relationship with their significant other.
Even when employees did not engage in actual work during their off hours, they still had negative health effects.
“The expectation that you be available either via email or text or phone or whatever creates stress and strain on people – even if nobody ever contacts them,” said Joseph Rock, PsyD of Cleveland Clinic, who did not take part in the study. Just the idea that you have to be in that situation – it keeps up a level of vigilance and a level of tension.”
Dr. Rock said our brains are naturally wired for short periods of stress, and long periods of recuperation.
But when we take calls from work at home all of the time, it interrupts our brain’s ability to recuperate, putting us on edge – and we may not even realize it.
Feeling like we’re always ‘on-call’ can affect us both emotionally and physically.
Dr. Rock believes it’s important to find a balance between our jobs and homes that works for us. One way to do this is to create boundaries between the two that are more clearly defined.
“Make a rule that my phone is going to stay in the office when we’re eating dinner,” he said. “After seven o’clock, I’m turning it down, and even if I go check it later for a few minutes, there’s going to be a period of time that I’m not available so I can actually be where I am with my family, instead of being home, but distracted with something else.”
Dr. Rock said we are creatures of habit, but sometimes our habits are bad habits and breaking those starts with awareness. He suggests having a conversation with loved ones about how much work messages are impacting your personal relationships.
“You want to engage with your family, to let them know that they’re also important, because the message you don’t want your spouse to get and your children to get, is that this job is more important than anything else,” he said.
Results of the study were presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting.