Do you check work emails at home? It could be damaging your health

Employment & Skills | Lifestyle | National | Reports


The average person in the UK checks their phone every 12 minutes. It is not just social media that is at our fingertips as work emails and office-based tools are just a click away. In the quest to create a relaxed office environment, it can sometimes be hard to keep any work boundaries at all. Research from Glassdoor reveals that the average UK employee sacrifices 6.5 days of their holiday entitlement each year through fear of being out of the office.

Out of office worries can make the prospect of checking emails too tempting to resist. However, ‘checking in’ can have a detrimental impact on our mental health, personal relationships and levels of productivity. Here, the health and wellbeing brand Gear Hungry explores the effects that checking emails out of office hours has on an employee’s health, along with tips on how to avoid the temptation.

Emails on the brain

Stanford University conducted a study that revealed when people multi-tasked, they trained the brain to switch its attention so frequently that it was constantly unable to focus. Consequently, switching between everyday tasks and emails can have a long-term effect on your concentration levels. Retraining the brain to fully focus on one task at a time can be problematic as it is effectively trying to form new habits.

Checking your emails outside of work has been linked to ‘Anticipatory Stress’, a type of stress that occurs when a person experiences a surge in anxiety due to thoughts of an event or specific occurrence. This can happen when a person feels pressured to check their work emails in order to stay up to date with the happenings in the office.

Anticipatory Stress often stems from a lack of confidence and a consistent fear of failure. This can lead people to work out of hours.

Jordan Carter at Gear Hungry says: “Fear of failure is incredibly common as workloads mount and the pressure to climb career ladders heighten. This can lead to employees believing that if they work harder and for longer, success must be imminent.

“In my view, this is not true. Working smarter, not harder, ensures success and avoids burnout. Working long hours tirelessly often sees that tasks are completed less effectively and are of lesser quality.”

When relationships suffer

Studies from Virginia Tech showed that those checking their emails had no idea of the effect it was having on their romantic partners. Working intermittently in your social hours can cause a disconnect between partners as they feel second best and unable to gain your full attention.

The counterproductive facts

Sacrificing your free time by checking emails will not only have a negative lasting impression on your physical and mental wellbeing, but it will also have a detrimental effect on your levels of productivity.

Not allowing yourself enough respite out of the office is a sure-fire way to experience office burnout. Office burnout will ensure that tasks are completed at a slower pace and that there is a deficiency in workplace engagement. Every time you are interrupted by an email, it takes a total of 20 minutes to fully focus on the previous task in hand. Research has shown that chopping and changing between tasks can see that they take 40% longer to complete.

Carter says: “Frequent emails can affect your focus within the workplace as well as outside. Close your emails when you are working on specific tasks and open them again once the task is completed. I implemented this rule within my business and some employees noted that their tasks took half the time to complete.”

How to avoid checking your emails out of hours

  1. Create a plan of action
    When it hits 5.30, it can be tempting to run for the door. However, before you leave the office, plan the next day’s tasks and ensure that today’s duties do not overrun into tomorrow. Employees can feel the need to check in with work when they are conscious that they may have some tasks outstanding. Tie up loose ends at the end of every day.
  2. If I worry then I am better at my job
    Employees often feel that if they send emails out of hours then they will portray the message that they are committed to their role and therefore must be a good employee. The quality of your work will always speak louder than several emails that are often unnecessary. Not checking your emails will give your brain the opportunity to recharge and allow you to fully focus on the work in hand.
  3. Disconnect from temptation
    Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to ensure that you do not check work emails outside of the office is to not have them on your phone at all. Unless it is in your contract, there is no law that suggests you are obliged to connect to the workplace out of hours. Keep your phone for personal use and leave your work at work.

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