How checking emails after work affects your mental health and relationships

Posted by
Susan Devaney
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New research has just confirmed what we always suspected: checking emails after work is not a good idea. 

We’re all guilty of doing it. We see another work-related notification pop up on our phone and before we know it we’re nine emails in and we’ve lost 45 minutes of our precious social life.

But what if we told you that checking out-of-hours emails is really not a good idea? There’s even science to back it up.

A recent study of full-time workers, aged between 31 and 40, found that people who consistently check their inbox after work believe that doing so doesn’t affect their current relationship – but it does. Researcher William Becker, who studies workplace emotions at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, told the Guardian that, “the employees themselves seem largely unaware of the impact this has on their significant others”.

Taking things a step further, Becker looked into how it affects our mental health by recruiting full-time workers in fields such as healthcare, tech, teaching and finance. The researchers then analysed the workers out-of-hours behaviour, anxiety levels and general wellbeing.

They found that the expectation of checking our emails in the evening leaves us with greater levels of anxiety and ill health. And their partners experienced higher stress levels, too. 

You’ve got mail… again

The issue stems from what Becker calls the “insidious downsides” of the always-on society “which may be at least partly to blame for the national epidemic of stress and anxiety”.

In an effort to combat this, Becker suggests companies place a ban on employees checking emails after 7pm, impose message-free periods and create a rota to make sure employees have free evenings.

“If we drop what we’re doing with our families to check our phones it sends out a message that they’re not as important,” Becker said. “If we don’t address this, it will only get worse and people will start to burn out, leave organisations, and have a lot more relationship problems.”

But things are looking up for employees who feel like they’re expected to check emails after clocking off. Last week, Gráinne O’Hara, a business development executive who worked at Kepak Convenience Foods in Ireland until April of last year, took her previous employer to court over out-of-hours emails. O’Hara said she was contracted to work 40 hours a week, but did close to 60 because she was required to reply to emails after she’d left the office (including sending a few after midnight).

Under employment law in Ireland, working more than 48 hours per week breaches the 1997 Organisation of Working Time Act.

The company argued that O’Hara carried out the same volume of work as her colleagues, all who worked 48 hours per week, but the court ruled that she was indeed having to check emails after work on a daily basis. She won her fight and, according to The Telegraph, was awarded €7,500 (£6,750).

Going forward, let’s all follow O’Hara’s footsteps and stop looking at emails into the wee hours.

Images: Unsplash / Getty