Banning access to work emails outside office hours ‘could impact employees’ wellbeing’

Sabrina Barr
Still from The Office (2005): Rex Features/NBC

For many of us, the ability to ignore our work emails out of hours would come as a welcome relief, but new research concludes that blocking employees from doing so could actually be detrimental to their wellbeing.

According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Sussex and published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, banning employees from checking their work email outside the workplace can be “particularly difficult” for those who have “high levels of anxiety and neuroticism”.

For their research, the team compiled a list of 72 work email-related actions that can have an effect on a worker’s productivity, their wellbeing, their sense of control and any feelings of concern they may have.

The researchers then conducted in-depth interviews with 28 participants and surveyed 341 respondents over email to understand how a person’s career goals and personality may influence the way they approach their work email.

The authors of the study concluded that “’one size fits all’ solutions for dealing with work email are unlikely to work”.

Dr Emma Russell, psychologist and senior lecturer in management at the University of Sussex Business School, said that “despite the best intentions” of a policy that instructs employees to switch off their emails outside of work hours for their wellbeing, this may not be welcomed by all.

In particular, “employees who prioritise work performance goals and who would prefer to attend work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed”.

The academic outlined that people need to find a way to deal with their email that suits their personalities and helps them feel as though they are “adequately managing their workload”.

Dr Russell explained that when people find their own way of dealing with their work email, this can lead to them becoming “more efficient” workers as a result.

The lecturer added that the way workers choose to deal with their emails depends on their personal goals, which in turn is contingent on their personalities.

“For example, a very agreeable person will prioritise goals to show concern to others, which may mean they respond more quickly to work email, or take care over the language and tone they employ when writing,” the academic said.

Several companies have recently implemented measures to regulate when employees have access to their emails.

In September 2018, it was reported that Lidl had banned workers in Belgium from sending emails to each other from 6pm in the evening until 7am the next day.

Meanwhile, in 2017 a law was passed in France that required firms with at least 50 employees to establish hours when staff should refrain from sending or answering emails.

It was recently reported that office workers spend the equivalent of 30 days a year on their email.

A study of 2,000 office employees found that they spend around two hours a day browsing their inbox, half of which was attributed to wastefully re-reading messages and needlessly checking for updates.

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Office workers spend the equivalent of 30 days a year on email