You just got home and you've got some serious plans with your old pal Netflix. Until your eye catches a new email in your work inbox. Though there isn't necessarily any real urgency to reply, many of us would probably respond to the email before getting on with our lives. It's called "telepressure" — and in a new study, researchers reveal that this pressure to deal with online work communications outside of regular work hours could be causing more damage to our health than we realize.
In the study, published online this week in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, researchers surveyed 354 people about various aspects of their personality, stress levels, and work habits. These included measures of how conscientious, work-obsessed, and technology-overloaded the participants felt like they were.
Results showed that higher levels of workplace telepressure were only moderately correlated with higher ratings of personality traits such as conscientiousness. Which could mean there isn't a specific type of person who feels the need to respond to after-hours emails, suggesting that it's an issue with the work environment rather than the worker. In fact, a second experiment — with a refined survey administered to 326 participants — confirmed this pattern. It also showed that both high levels of job involvement and workload correlated with the frequency of participants' email response patterns.
But, even worse, participants who reported higher levels of telepressure also reported having poorer-quality sleep, taking more sick days, and less "psychological detachment" from their work lives. This is consistent with previous findings, which indicate that workaholism and the burnout it creates are linked to increased risk for heart disease, stress-related illnesses, relationship strain, and even premature death.
The authors also point out the silliness inherent in all of this: If you get an email with the subject line "Please reply ASAP!!" your colleague's definition of ASAP might be different from yours, meaning that even if you think they're asking for an answer in the next 10 minutes, one within the next day might suffice.
So, for your health, consider putting the email down this weekend.