“Technostress” is the latest scourge to befall company employees. As the name implies, it’s stress related to technology — specifically email — that people have in their daily lives because they feel like they can’t get away from work.
It’s not just an annoyance. Technostress can actually lead to ill health.
“This ‘always on’ culture of emails is killing people,” Sir Cary Cooper, an organizational psychologist at Manchester Business School, has said. “It leads to worry, anxiety, depression, and physical ill-health. There’s a whole field now called technostress, and the evidence is that unconstrained emails, where there is no guidance by employers, are damaging for people’s health.”
Ron Friedman, psychologist and author of “The Best Place To Work,” concurs, saying constantly checking email can be detrimental to a person’s productivity and, much worse, their overall quality of life.
A 2016 study authored by Liuba Belkin of Lehigh University, William Becker of Virginia Tech and Samantha A. Conroy of Colorado State University found that it’s not only opening and reading the emails outside of working hours that stresses people out. Just the expectation of receiving outside-of-work-hours emails is stressful. The researchers gathered data from 297 working adults and found that even the expectation of receiving after hours work emails leads to burnout and diminished work-family balance.
What’s Being Done
Corporations and governments are already recognizing the threat of technostress and taking action.
The French government famously passed a law in January of 2017 that guaranteed employees’ right to disconnect from work.
Some large companies have taken it upon themselves to enact policies that limit work-related email communication outside of working hours. Vehicle manufacturers Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler in Germany, along with French energy corporation Orano and multinational insurance firm AXA have all adopted such policies.
Recently, the chairman of Porsche’s works council Uwe Hück even went so far as to say that any work emails received outside of working hours should be returned to sender.
What You Can Do at Work
If you’re an employer, the obvious answer is that you can make it a part of your corporate culture and implement one of these policies in your own business. No sending or responding to work emails outside of business hours. You can make it a written policy or just have it as an unwritten rule, whatever suits your company culture best.
At the company my wife and I run, we refrain from sending after-hours work emails, because we respect our employees and want them to enjoy their free time. At the same time, we also expect that when they are at work, they are not checking personal emails and other such messages. When you make a boundary and say you don’t expect your employees to think and live work at their homes, you can also say you expect the same when they are at work. They should be there in full body and mind.
What You Can Do at Home
On a personal level, you can refrain from checking your emails outside of working hours, although for an entrepreneur, the concept of working hours — especially if you’re dealing with overseas suppliers or customers — is rather murky.
I personally don’t check emails after 7 pm because I’d rather be spending that time with my family. I’ve also changed my schedule to go to sleep and wake up early and do work at the start of the day rather than staying up late to work in the evening, which really helps.
Regardless of whether you’re a business owner or an employee, if you do want to cut down on email time outside of work, I suggest taking one step further than simply trying to ignore emails.
A work colleague recently upgraded his phone. On his old phone, he received visual notifications about new emails, but not auditory ones. (Basically, he would see a little icon if he received an email, but his phone wouldn’t ding when he received one.)
On the new phone, he couldn’t figure out how to separate the visual and auditory notifications for email. If he received an email, his phone would both show him an icon and ding. Rather than spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get things like they were on his old phone, he just decided to turn off all email notifications on his phone.
Although it’s only been about a week now since turning off all email notifications, he’s told me it actually has made him feel a bit better. Email is now back on his terms, as he told me, rather than being on other people’s terms. I found that inspiring.
If you want to save yourself and your employees from technostress, limiting work related emails during non-working hours is a great way to start. Just say “no” to notifications.