Study finds banning work email access after hours might be even more stressful for workers

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Not being able to check emails after work hours might sound like a blessing to some. Think of it as a reprieve from the responsibilities during the 9-to-5 slog, a way to recharge and get back on track before tomorrow.

But in today’s work culture, where jobs sometimes revolve around-the-clock, not being able to check emails after hours might be doing more harm than good, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, found that companies that impose an email ban after office hours might think they’ve done good, but ultimately other employees’ could be harmed by being deterred and not able to hit personal targets.

No emails equal more stress

Dr. Emma Russell, a psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of Sussex Business School, said companies shouldn’t just impose one set of guidelines but essentially let employees choose how they want to approach different goals.

“Despite the best intentions of a solution designed to optimize well-being such as instructing all employees to switch off their emails outside of work hours to avoid being stressed, this policy would be unlikely to be welcomed by employees who prioritize work performance goals and who would prefer to attend to work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed,” Russell said.

“People need to deal with email in a way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload. When people do this, these actions can become relatively habitual, which is more efficient for their work practices.”

Russell said the main purpose of her paper was to see how people deal with work-email and to see how actions differ when it comes to people’s goals. The paper found people normally have one of four goals: to show compassion to others, achieve work effectively, preserve well-being, or to have more control over their work.

“We deal with email differently depending on the goals that we are prioritizing, and we tend to prioritize goals that fit with our personality,” Russell said. “For example, a very agreeable person will prioritize goals to show concern to others, which may mean they respond more quickly to work email, or take care over the language and tone they employ when writing.”

One country already started this type of email control. In 2017, France passed a law requiring companies with more than 50 workers to have set hours where employees were not allowed to send or answer emails.

Recent proposals by New York City politicians also drew up a similar plan to have employees disconnect once they leave work.

That bill is still being debated by the City Council, according to the New York Post.