By Joelle Smith
Image: Shutterstock/Amanda Becker
Keep Lotus Notes closed—for your sanity’s sake: Checking work email at night leaves you emotionally exhausted, finds forthcoming research from Lehigh, Colorado State, and Virginia Tech universities.
In the study, researchers analyzed data from surveys of almost 300 workers in different industries, including healthcare, finance, and technology.
The surveys tracked how long people spent replying to emails off the clock, as well as their reported ability to mentally detach from their job responsibilities after work.
The researchers found that employees who reported working for organisations with high expectations to monitor email after-hours were less able to detach from work issues outside their jobs, and felt more emotionally drained, says study coauthor Liuba Belkin, Ph.D.
Plus, on average, people spent 8 hours per week answering emails after work—the equivalent of an extra full day at the office.
“But regardless of how much time you spend on email,” Belkin says, “just knowing that there’s a high expectation to be available really drives us to burnout.”
If you’re in a position of power to help change office culture, the study authors suggest implementing weekly “email-free days,” or offering rotating after-hours email schedules to help employees manage a better work-life balance.
Of course, depending on your industry, it simply may not be feasible to completely disconnect when you head home. “There was a time I told people not to work after a certain hour, but that age has passed,” says Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, author of the book Breathing Space.
If you get anxious ignoring your inbox, check it in the evening, but set limits: For starters, keep your hands off your phone during dinner with the family, says Davidson.
Then increase intervals between checking messages, he says: First, look every 10 minutes, then the next day every 20, then the day after that every 30, and so on until you can go half the night without looking before falling asleep.
It’ll make you feel better: People who reduced the number of times they logged onto their email benefitted less from daily stress than those who did so an unlimited amount, says a study in Computers in Human Behavior.
Additional reporting by Jessica Migala