Technology makes it increasingly hard to tune out from work. But when we always have our work at our fingertips, we can be susceptible to some serious consequences.
We’re slowly learning more about the real costs of working overtime, for both employees and their families. The scary reality is that all that technology could be “killing us softly.” Previous studies have demonstrated that when people bring their work home with them, it can cause strain and conflict within their family. A natural solution is to leave work projects at work. However, new research shows that it’s not necessarily that easy or straightforward.
Researchers at Virginia Tech analyzed the habits of 142 full-time workers and their significant others and discovered startling trends. They found that employees who have bosses who expect them to be available at all times still feel the same harmful effects that are experienced when you bring your work home with you. This continuous availability increases anxiety in both employees and with their family members. This means that even if you don’t answer a single message or catch up on any reports at home — but your boss expects it — both your health and your family’s health suffer.
Companies with an “always on” culture like this often disguise it as a benefit. Employees assume they have more independence and therefore more control over work-life boundaries. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true.
“Our research exposes the reality,” says William Becker, associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business and co-author of the study. “‘Flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”
The study authors suggest that employers have the power to fix the problem. They can add policies that reinstitute boundaries for email and other technology. For example, they can create guidelines for when electronic communication is and isn’t acceptable during off-hours, and can also create specific schedules for when employees are available to respond.
“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before,” Becker said. “Employer expectations during nonwork hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their nonwork time.”
It is possible to find a healthy, manageable balance between professional obligations and personal time. According to research published by the American Sociological Review, a whopping 70 percent of American workers struggle with work-life balance. It’s not easy, but it’s more important than ever to find a combination that works for you and your family.
Practice mindfulness. When emails and to-do lists are out of control, this practice can bring back control. It encourages being present and can also help improve relationships and reduce anxiety with a minimal time commitment.
Follow a nutrient-rich diet. This doesn’t mean depriving yourself of your favorite foods, but filling your plate with whole nutritious foods gives your body the fuel it needs to keep up with lofty work demands and have energy for fun with the family too.
Develop a solid support network. People who have discovered a healthy work-life balance also have a network they can rely on. Generally that means they have a variety of interests and are active in these communities.