Checking work emails after hours is taking a toll on your health

HOUSTON – Whether it’s just one more email to send or just one more message to respond to – many of us have found ourselves pouring over work emails after hours.

According to one recent study, checking those work messages round-the-clock is taking a toll on our health.

“The expectation that you be available either via email or text or phone or whatever creates stress and strain on people – even if nobody ever contacts them. Just the idea that they have to be in that situation, it keeps a level of vigilance and a level of tension going on with them,” Dr. Joseph Rock, a psychologist from Cleveland Clinic, said.

The study surveyed a group of more than 100 employees who worked at least 30 hours per week, as well as their significant others, and their managers.

Researchers found that employees expected to check messages after hours experienced anxiety and relationship strain with their significant others. Even when employees did not engage in actual work during their off hours, they still had negative health effects.

Rock said that our brains are naturally wired for short periods of stress and long periods of recuperation, but when we take calls from work at home all of the time, it interrupts our brain’s ability to recuperate – putting us on edge all of the time – and we may not even realize it. He said that feeling like we’re always "on-call" can affect us both emotionally and physically.

Therefore, it’s important to find a balance between our jobs and homes. One way to do this is to create boundaries between the two that are more clearly defined.

“My phone’s going to stay in the office when we’re eating dinner," Rock said. "After seven o’clock, I’m turning it down, and even if I go check it later for a few minutes, there’s going to be a period of time that I’m not available so I can actually be where I am with you guys, instead of being with you, but distracted with something else.” 

Results of the study were presented at the academy of management annual meeting.