Study reveals adverse health effects on workers & families of employer’s off-hours email expectations


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A new study found that employer expectations of work email monitoring during nonwork hours are detrimental to the health and well-being of not only employees but their family members as well.

The study, “Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being” show that the demands of work and nonwork lives could result in anxiety, which adversely affects the health of employees and their families.

“The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees,” said William Becker, a Virginia Tech associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business.

According to Mr. Becker, the new study demonstrates that workers do not have to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects. The mere expectations of availability increase strain for employees and their significant others- even when employees do not engage in actual work during nonwork time.

“Unlike work-related demands that deplete employee resources, physical and psychological, by requiring time away from home, the insidious impact of ‘always on’ organizational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit-increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries,” said Mr. Becker.

“Our research exposes the reality: ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and wellbeing.”

To reduce the adverse effects identified in the study, Becker recommends having policies that reduce expectations to monitor electronic communications outside of work.

He also said communicating organizational expectations early is also ideal.

“If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities,” said Mr. Becker.

“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before.

“Employer expectations during nonwork hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their nonwork time.

“Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations.”

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