It’s 8 p.m. and you hear the sound of an email notification. You run to your laptop, as you’ve been conditioned to do, and see a work email sitting in your Inbox. What do you do? Many of us wouldn’t hesitate to answer the email, assuming it’s expected. In an age of social media, texting and FaceTime, it’s implied that we’re all within arm’s reach of our mobile devices. Why wouldn’t be respond to an email that we clearly saw?
According to a new study, this habit could ruin your relationships outside of work.
Researchers at Virginia Tech surveyed the health of nearly 300 university employees and found that all of them had varying levels of anxiety that could be damaging to their health.
The kicker is that the employees didn’t even need to be spending actual time working in their off-hours to feel the effects; they were negatively affected simply by the mere expectation of being available.
These “flexible work boundaries” create a slippery slope in which the smallest task, like checking an email, could turn into “work without boundaries” with bosses expecting their employees to be “on” all the time, according to the study.
And this stress, says researchers, can easily spread to family and friends, who are witness to the inability of their loved one to psychologically detach from work-related issues.
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“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 study co-author William Becker.
Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before. Employer expectations during non-work hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their non-work time.
Becker adds, “Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations.”