exhausted-1239746Technology makes it possible for us to work around the clock, and it has become standard operating procedure to read and respond to emails after business hours.

While many leaders love the idea of hardworking employees always “being on,” the practice is having harmful effects on worker well-being, according to a new study, “Exhausted But Unable to Disconnect,” authored by Liuba Belkin of Lehigh University, William Becker of Virginia Tech and Samantha A. Conroy of Colorado State University.

Surprisingly, however, the study of 297 working adults, found that the harm isn’t necessarily caused by how much time employees spend on work emails. Instead it’s the anticipatory stress and expectation of answering after-hours emails that is stressing employees out, hurting their work-family balance, and leaving them exhausted. Ultimately, if you are emailing employees at all hours of the night, and they believe they need to respond right away, you could be driving them straight to burnout.

“[Employees] are not able to separate from work when they go home, which is when they are supposed to be recovering their resources. It’s not only that employees are spending a certain amount of extra time answering emails, but it’s that they feel they have to be ready to respond and they don’t know what the request will be,” said Conroy. “So if they’re having dinner with their family, and hear that ‘ding,’ they feel they have to turn their attention away from their family and answer the email.”

So, as a leader, what can you do to mitigate the chronic stress and emotional exhaustion your employees may be feeling?

If you can’t ban after-hours email altogether, the authors recommend that you establish formal policies and rules specifically for using email outside of normal business hours. For example, set realistic hours for when employees should be available, establish weekly email-free days, or create a rotating schedule so that all employees don’t have to be available all the time. And finally, make it the norm that responses are required only when the sender has indicated that it is urgent. Better yet, if the discussion can wait until tomorrow, hold off on sending the email until then.

“Organizations and even individual managers can have some influence on how exhausted their employees are by something as small as communicating the expectations of answering emails and shifting the way after-hours work is handled,” says Conroy.

Photo Credit: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/exhausted-1239746

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  1. Excellent article ! If your work is mentally stressful instead of physically challenging, it can be just as tiring. It’s just as important to rest the mind as it is the body. A work email or phone call will bring a person right back into work mode and if it’s at all complex can keep that person mentally at work.. It’s important to get away physically and mentally to refresh and be ready to start the next day.

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