There has long been a perception that the notion of flexible work is somewhat unbalanced. The rise in digital technology in the workplace, and, in particular, mobile technology, has allowed us to be ’connected’ to work 24/7. In an ideal world, this would afford us flexibility over when and where we worked, but in reality it seems that it just gives our employer the ability to tap into more of our personal time.
Also see: Can Taking Work Home Ruin Your Life?
A recent study by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington highlights just how much this gets on our nerves.
The study saw hundreds of working adults tracked over a seven day period to gauge their mood throughout the week, and in particular when they received work based communication, such as an email, outside of work hours. The findings reveal the insidious effect this constant communication has on our wellbeing.
"People who were part of the study reported they became angry when they received a work email or text after they had gone home and that communication was negatively worded or required a lot of the person’s time," the authors say. "Also, the people who tried to separate work from their personal life experienced more work-life interference. The after-hours emails really affected those workers’ personal lives."
Segmenters and Integrators
The research identified two main type of worker, which the researchers called integrators and segmenters. The segmenters were found to typically try and keep their work life and their personal life as separate as possible. While this was a noble ambition, the results showed that when this ambition failed and they received an email from work, they were particularly badly affected by it.
Integrators, by contrast, were people who actively wanted to keep in touch with work and know what was happening. While they also displayed anger when receiving that out of work email, they didn’t let it get in the way of enjoying their personal time.
With mobile and digital technology a fundamental part of our working, and indeed personal, lives, the findings provide a stark reminder of just how damaging they can be to our wellbeing.
"Smartphones and the accompanying culture of ’always on’ has made after-hours communication ubiquitous," the authors say. "But, like everything else in business, it can be done well or badly, and implementation is critical for success. This study informs leaders not just whether and when, but also how to communicate with employees."
So What can be Done?
The paper suggests that organisations should be trained so that they know what they should be saying in an email, and how boundaries can be set for the appropriate time to send such correspondence.
"This is the new world of work communication, and these recommendations might work in one department of a company but not in another area of the business," they suggest. "The key is to develop your own appropriate communications rhythm within your department."
Interestingly, the study found that there was an instance when such extra-curricular emails had a positive impact. When we received good news via that email, it gave us a bit of a boost, but alas those good feelings were not found to last very long.
How do you feel when your employer contacts you outside of office hours? Does it stress you out or do you feel it’s an inevitable part of modern working life? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.