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Banning emails outside of work hours might actually trigger burnout

Posted by
Hollie Richardson
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Check emails outside of work

We live in a society that expects staff to answer emails outside of work hours. But, according to new research, some people actually feel good after replying to emails away from the office.

It’s the question that defines a whole generation: should you check work emails outside of office hours

Just last week, Stylist reported on the ‘always-on’ culture that society seems to have accepted as the norm. A survey found that 86% of respondents said they had “issues switching off”, and 80% said they’d had trouble sleeping because of anxiety around their work and availability. 

Emails are definitely a big part of the problem here, with another recent study showing that 54% of commuters used the train’s WiFi to get a head start on their work in the morning. 

Ultimately, this is leading to burnout

Those feelings of stress, tiredness, anxiety and being overwhelmed have been officially recognised as burnout by World Health Organization. It’s a real medical condition, and the expectation for us to be plugged into the world – including our work – is triggering it.

And new research has shown just how bad the problem is.

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University of Sussex researchers found that, while a ban on emails outside of work could help some employees switch off, it could also stop people from achieving their work targets and staying on top of a growing number of emails. This, in turn, could cause a lot of stress for employees with “high levels of anxiety and neuroticism”.

Basically: we now live in a society that’s built to make many people feel good about working the hours they are not paid for. 

How many emails a day do you send?
Career burnout: do you check your emails outside of work?

In 2016, employees in France were given the legal right to avoid work emails outside working hours. Inspired by this, some UK companies are working towards an email ban outside of office hours, and it will be interesting to see if the UK government follows suit. 

But, as the research shows, this blanket ban might do more harm than good for some staff. 

Dr Emma Russell, a senior lecturer in management at the University of Sussex Business School, said that this one-size-fits-all approach should actually be avoided.

“[Blanket bans] would be unlikely to be welcomed by employees who prioritise work performance goals and who would prefer to attend to work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed,” she said. 

“People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload.”

So, different people clearly have different ways of coping with their inboxes. 

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If you’re experiencing work-related burnout, Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director of Healthspan, and author of Cut Your Stress, shares her tips on how to identify work stress and what you can do about it.

How does working too much overtime impact our mental health?

“Overwork and lack of relaxation can lead to anxiety, difficulty sleeping and depression. Long-term stress can lead to complex social phobias that are grounded in negative thoughts of not being able to cope, of having nothing interesting to say, or of being embarrassed in front of others.”

What can we do to protect ourselves from too much work-related stress?

“The government-backed Escape Your Anxiety programme offers a whole range of tools and resources to help you understand and manage anxiety including how helping others can help shift your focus away from your own worries. It also recommends a range of relaxation and mindfulness apps.”

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What are the best ways to destress after work/cope from heightened stress?

“Exercise not only takes you away from your worries but helps to burn off the effects of stress and stimulates release of your body’s own feel-good chemicals known as endorphins. Any form of exercise you enjoy, such as walking, swimming, cycling, dancing or gardening will all help.”

Need some distraction? Sign up for our essential edit of what to buy, see, read and do while at home.

And if you do find yourself checking emails outside of work hours, it might be worth trialling a self-imposed ban for a couple of weeks to see how it goes. 

Images: Getty, HBO

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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