Nav: Home

For many, 'flexible work boundaries' become 'work without boundaries'

August 10, 2018

Personal relationships and home life suffer for those tied to their work emails round-the-clock, according to a new study. The study is the first to test the relationship between organizational expectations to monitor work-related electronic communication during non-work hours and the health and relationship satisfaction of employees and their significant others.

In "Killing Me Softly: Electronic Communications Monitoring and Employee and Spouse Well-Being," researchers report that such expectations are "an insidious stressor that not only increases employee anxiety, decreases their relationship satisfaction and has detrimental effects on employee health, but also that it negatively affects partner (significant other) health and marital satisfaction perceptions," said Liuba Belkin, associate professor of management at Lehigh University. Belkin co-authored the article with William Becker of Virginia Tech, Samantha A. Conroy of Colorado State University, and Sarah Tuskey, a Virginia Tech doctoral student.

The research will be presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting, held Aug. 10-14, 2018, in Chicago, Ill. and is published in the Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings.

Regardless of how much time individuals actually spent monitoring and answering work emails outside of work hours, the mere presence of organizational expectations to monitor email outside of work led to employee anxiety and negative effects on well-being, which also affected their partners (spouses/significant others), Belkin said. "Thus, we demonstrated that these normative expectations for work email monitoring during non-work hours is a significant stressor above and beyond actual workload and time spent on handling it during non-work hours," she said. In addition, the strong negative impact of such organizational expectations was found to not only affect employees, but also their significant others' well-being, demonstrating a "spillover effect," Belkin said.

The research builds upon earlier work by the researchers that examined organizational expectations to monitor email and its effects on employees' ability to detach from work, emotional exhaustion and work-family balance perceptions. That study, "Exhausted, But Unable to Disconnect: The Impact of Email-Related Organizational Expectations on Work-Family Balance," was the first to identify email-related expectations as a job stressor along with already established factors such as high workload, interpersonal conflicts, physical environment or time pressure.

What Can Employers and Individuals Do?

For individuals, mindfulness training has been shown to be an effective approach to reducing anxiety and work-related negative affect and could possibly help with the long-term health and relationship satisfaction effects of electronic communication demands on employees and their partners, the study reports. "Mindfulness is a practice within the control of the employee even if email expectations are not (i.e., those are enforced by their organization or their manager)," Belkin said.

For organizations, policies that reduce expectations to monitor electronic communication outside of work would be ideal. "This may not always be an option due to various industry/job demands," Belkin said. "Nevertheless, organizations could set off-hour email windows and limit use of electronic communications outside of those windows or set up email schedules when various employees are available to respond." The idea would be to create clear boundaries for employees that indicate the times when work role identity enactment is likely to be needed and the times when employees can focus solely on their family role identities. For example, research indicates that when employees are allowed to engage in part-time telecommuting practices, they experience less emotional exhaustion and decreased work-family conflict, Belkin said.

Additionally, organizational expectations should be communicated clearly. If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities. Putting these expectations upfront may not only reduce anxiety and negative emotions, but also increase understanding from significant others by "reframing" work and family boundaries and surrounding expectations around employee work-family time, the study reports.

For the study, researchers recruited 142 sets of full-time employees and their significant others. "Our findings extend literature on work-related electronic communication at the interface of work and non-work and deepen our understanding of the impact of organizational expectations on employees and their families," the study concluded.
-end-


Lehigh University

Related Health Articles:

Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.
Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.
Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.
Geographic and health system correlates of interprofessional oral health practice
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health (Volume 6, Number 2, 2018, pp.
Bloomberg era's emphasis on 'health in all policies' improved New Yorkers' heart health
From 2002 to 2013, New York City implemented a series of policies prioritizing the public's health in areas beyond traditional healthcare policies and illustrated the potential to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
Youth consider mobile health units a safe place for sexual health services
Mobile health units bring important medical services to communities across the country.
Toddler formulas and milks -- not recommended by health experts -- mislead with health claims
Misleading labeling on formulas and milks marketed as 'toddler drinks' may confuse parents about their healthfulness or necessity, finds a new study by researchers at the NYU College of Global Public Health and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
Women's health has worsened while men's health has improved, trends since 1990 show
Swedish researchers have studied health trends among women and men aged 25-34 from 1990-2014.
Health insurance changes, access to care by patients' mental health status
A research letter published by JAMA Psychiatry examined access to care before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and after the ACA for patients grouped by mental health status using a scale to assess mental illness in epidemiologic studies.
Community health workers lead to better health, lower costs for Medicaid patients
As politicians struggle to solve the nation's healthcare problems, a new study finds a way to improve health and lower costs among Medicaid and uninsured patients.
More Health News and Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.