Employees that are checking work emails after hours could be harming their families’ health and well-being as well as their own, according to new research.

The study found that employees did not even need to check emails at home – the expectation alone was enough to create a taxing burden on family relationships.

The paper, ‘Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being’, builds on the findings of other studies that have shown high-stress job demands leads to strained relationships.

“The competing demands of work and non-work lives present a dilemma for employees, which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives,” said William Becker, a Virginia Tech associate professor who co-authored the research.

Home email checking harmful but disguised as a benefit

Becker, whose research interests include work emotion, turnover, organisational neuroscience and leadership, said that the expectation to always be working is often disguised as a benefit.

This could be “increased convenience” or “higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries”.

email checking harmful

The rise of modern technology has meant that 3.9 million Americans now work from home at least half the time.

With half of workers expected to work remotely by 2020, the lines between work and home could be blurred further and increase what Becker describes as the “insidious impact of ‘always on’ organisational culture”.

Mindfulness offers a solution

Becker recommended that companies enforce policies that reduce the culture of expectation.

He also called for organisational expectations to be communicated clearly:

“If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities.”

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Knowing these expectations upfront may reduce anxiety in employees and increase understanding from their family members, he said.

Another strategy could be for employees to practice mindfulness, the art of paying more attention to the present moment.

It often involves meditation and has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.

Becker said that it could improve relationship satisfaction and has the advantage of being within the employees’ control, whereas email expectations are not.

“Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations,” he said.