Emails are to blame for emotional exhaustion

Yes, it’s OK to be unreachable.

Over the past few months, France has been trying to pass a labor law that will allow its citizens “the right to disconnect” after normal working hours. In other words, sending and receiving work-related emails after quitting time will not be tolerated, due to the understanding that continuous engagement is ruining work productivity and overall happiness.

Photo: Getty Images.

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To further explore this theory, three U.S. professors analysed data from 297 working adults in order to examine the role of organisational expectations regarding off-hours emailing. Not only did they find that the inability to unplug can lead to job burnout — which can spiral into poor productivity and higher turnover — but the same technology that was designed to help employees can also be harming their emotional well-being.

Interestingly enough, the investigators discovered that the problem wasn’t the amount of time employees were spending on post-working hours emails, it was the continuous state of anxiety associated with it. In a paper entitled “Exhausted, but Unable to Disconnect: The Impact of Email-related Organizational Expectations on Work-family Balance,” the researchers added that the “always-on culture” is contributing to other possible job stressors, including high work volume, interpersonal conflicts, and time pressure.

“Email is notoriously known to be the impediment of the recovery process,” wrote the authors. “Its accessibility contributes to experience of work overload since it allows employees to engage in work as if they never left the workspace, and at the same time, inhibits their ability to psychologically detach from work-related issues via continuous connectivity.”

Photo: Getty Images.

“Sadly, these results are not surprising,” Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, tells Yahoo. “We put so much pressure on ourselves to be ‘on’ at all times that we never give ourselves the time to decompress. As a result, burnout prevails.”

Lombardo believes this is the result of living in our current “perfectionistic, all-or-nothing society.” She adds that people tend to think, “I either answer my emails immediately or I’m a bad worker” or ‘I have to get back to my customer after hours or they are going to fire me.”

The study authors suggest that managers implement new policies to limit work-related emails after hours, and Lombardo agrees. “Ideally, it starts from the top, a culture shift,” she says. “And with stress — such as after-hours emails — costing U.S. businesses over $300 billion every year, it makes business sense.”

If around-the-clock emails are unavoidable, the professors advise organisations to look into a rotating on-call schedule, as well as establishing specific “email-free days.” However, if all-hours emails are not part of your company’s policy but have become ingrained in the culture, Lombardo suggests setting up an automated response that can include some basic information, such as your typical working hours and an emergency-only contact number.

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“We teach people how to treat us,” she explains. “If we establish boundaries and stick to them, all the while performing up to par, you will be able to put at least nonemergency emails off until the next business day without looking unreliable to the higher-ups.”

- Amy Capetta

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