Exhausted by Eternal Email

An ‘always on’ culture with high expectations to monitor and respond to emails during non-work time may pre­vent employees from ever fully disengaging from work.
IF YOUR BOSS EXPECTS YOU to answer email 24 hours a day, you may suffer from chronic stress and emotional exhaustion. That’s the conclusion of three researchers who surveyed work­ing adults about how much time they devoted to after-hours email and how successfully they were able to separate work and home life. “An ‘always on’ culture with high expectations to monitor and respond to emails during non-work time may pre­vent employees from ever fully disengaging from work,” write Liuba Y. Belkin of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylva­nia; William Becker of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg; and Saman­tha A. Conroy of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

The study focused on the psychological price workers pay when they’re expected to respond to email during off-hours. According to the professors, “Organizational expectations are the main culprit of individual inability to disconnect.” Even when there are no emails to manage, the anticipation of work creates stress that does not allow workers to detach from work.

The authors call on managers to promote practices that protect employees, such as creating email-free days or rotating schedules among employees so they can manage work and family time more efficiently. They write that such policies “will also serve as a signal of organizational caring and support.”
The authors note that European firms are far ahead of American companies in this regard. They also laud Boston Consulting Group for pioneering email-free evenings and name other companies that have instituted correspondence bans on weekends and after 10 p.m. on weekdays.

Belkin, Becker, and Conroy presented their report, “Exhaust­ed But Unable to Disconnect: The Impact of Email-Related Organizational Expectations on Work-Family Balance,” at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in August.