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Study: Stress over work emails can predict job and family tension

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Posted at 3:23 PM, May 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 15:27:54-04

Email is an important part of the work day for many people.

New research confirms that work emails are affecting our personal lives, too.

In a study published in April, email demands were found to predict job tension, which was found to predict family tension.

The worst effects were for people with low levels of self-regulation.

That means they have trouble leaving work at work, especially if the workplace culture rewards people who are "always on."

"You might have a policy where it says we don't email after hours," said David Steffensen Jr., an assistant professor at Middle Tennessee State University and one of the authors of the research. "If there is still this unwritten expectation that, 'Hey, all these other people are responding quickly, then that's the expectation for me,' then those people that don't have the willpower or ability to say no are the ones who are really going to get affected."

The opposite held true, as well.

People with high levels of self-regulation were less likely to feel the effect of increased email demands.

They were better at separating work from home.

Research shows that self-regulation skills are like a muscle which can be exercised and grown over time.

"People that are all about self-improvement say things like, 'Wake up in the morning and make your bed right away,'" said Steffensen. "There's some truth to this. What you're doing is developing that willpower and self-control by doing something little. 'I'm just going to control this area of my life. I'm going to wake up. I'm going to make my bed.' And suddenly it's a cascading effect into the other areas of our life."

Some countries, like France, have written the right to disconnect from work into law.

In the U.S., certain after-hours emails could count as hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Experts say the best thing you can do is set your own boundaries.

Whether you're remote or at the office, work with your supervisor, so they know when you plan to be 'on' and when you plan to be offline.