computer keyboard, email

Does your boss expect you to respond promptly to email or Slack messages outside of working hours? Did you know that before you took the job?

Why Answering Email from Home Could Harm Your Health:

A new study finds that the expectation of being on call 24/7 puts a lot of strain on employees and on their family members as well. It interferes with a person’s availability for non-job responsibilities such as childcare or household chores. In addition, the possibility of a work-related demand during time off can create a lot of anxiety. This can aggravate stress and conflict in family relationships even when people don’t spend a lot of time actually working at home.

Health Consequences of Stress:

People may experience worse symptoms of several conditions, such as psoriasis or irritable bowel disease, when they are under stress. In addition, chronic exposure to stress over years can contribute to heart disease, as research has long shown.

In one study, Dutch researchers took 1.2 inches (3 cm) of hair near the scalp from 283 senior citizens (average age 75). They then analyzed the amounts of cortisol in the hair (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, May , 2013). This provides a more stable assessment of cortisol levels over time than a blood sample, as serum cortisol can change from hour to hour. Three cm represents approximately three months of hair growth. The people with higher levels of cortisol in their hair had higher rates of heart disease and diabetes. Scientists don’t know for sure that stress alone can lead to these complications, but it does seem to make them more difficult to control.

What Is the Trouble with Answering Email When You Are Not at Work?

Part of the problem is that employers don’t always recognize that managing email or other electronic communication around the clock is an imposition. There is rarely any extra pay or time off to compensate for such always on-call expectations. The researchers suggest that employers not expect workers to monitor email when they are not on the job. If that is unavoidable, setting up clear times as off-hour email windows is desirable. Employees who must be available by email should have that spelled out up front as part of the job responsibilities.

Academy of Management annual meeting, Chicago, Aug. 10, 2018

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  1. Jules

    Answering e-mail at all hours is the norm these days. Some jobs are better than others – at my last job, if an e-mail went out on a Sunday, it was expected that you’d answer that day. My current job is not as strict, but off-hours responses are expected.

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