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article imageTo be effective employees need to digitally unplug

By Tim Sandle     Aug 8, 2016 in Business
A new study has perhaps confirmed what most would expect. To be effective at work the following day, employees need downtime and this includes not checking work emails when at home.
One downside of digital technology is that employers expect more out of their workforce outside of contracted hours (or employees feel drawn to work on the commute home or once at home.) The most common form of ‘overtime’ is the regular checking of work emails. This is a modern phenomenon: in the past typists did not carry their typewriters on the way home on the off-chance they needed to type out a memo. The high activity with work related email is part of the current zeitgeist.
While some employers may encourage this behaviour and think it increases productivity, a new study suggests it has the counter effect for when the employee returns to work the next day they are fatigued and less productive.
Angela Clancy (@angela__clancy): "The stress of checking emails after hours may lead to #employee #burnout."
YouInc (@YouInc) "The real challenge with managing #email is reducing its impact on your life, especially outside work hours."
The new study, reported by Laboratory Manager, gets to the heart of the ‘work-life’ balance in the age of digital technology. It takes the form of a report presented to the annual meeting of the Academy of Management. The study was carried out by researchers from three institutions: Lehigh University, Virginia Tech and Colorado State University.
The study drew a positive correlation between after-hours email expectations and emotional exhaustion. The study also makes the point that the introduction of digital technologies, initially sold as tools to make working life easier, are simply functioning to make people work for longer.
The study is based on a small sample, some 297 adults, and the effects were based on self-perception questionnaires, in which the participants rated how they felt against emotive words like “burnout.” Nevertheless, important points are made and the clear message is about the importance of detaching both mentally and physically from work. The key factor was found to be not the time spent on email but the stress associated with the anticipation of the task and the responses to individual messages.
In the research the authors state: “This suggests that organizational expectations can steal employee resources even when actual time is not required because employees cannot fully separate from work.”
The new advice doesn’t apply everywhere. Earlier this year the French government passed a law banning employees from checking emails on their rest days.
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