The advancement of technology such as the internet and smart gadgets has enabled flexible working arrangements. While many see that digital transformation gives fresh breeze to the traditional working practices, recent research reveals that ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries’. As more employers expects their employees to monitor work emails even during nonwork hours, the study shows that this could be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of not only employees but also their family members.
In a new study titled ‘Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being’ co-authored by William Becker, it is found that such employer’s expectations could result in anxiety that affects the health of employees and their families. The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees, which then triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers both their professional and personal lives.
Meanwhile, other studies suggested that the stress coming from increasing job demands often leads to strain and conflict in family relationship. Such case is prone to happen when the employee is unable to fulfill his task during work hours and thus bring work home to finish up.
Becker said the new study demonstrated that employees do not need to spend actual time on work after hours to experience the harmful effects. The mere expectations of such availability alone will affect the employees and their families. He said, ‘”The insidious impact of ‘always on’ organisational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit — increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries.”
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Then what can employers do to prevent the costly consequences of mental illness? Becker said there needs to be ideal policies that reduce expectations to monitor electronic communication outside working hours. Or, business leaders need to establish boundaries on when electronic communication is acceptable during off-hours by setting up off-hour email windows or schedules when employees are available to respond.
He added that organisational expectations should be communicated clearly unpfront to reduce anxiety and increase understanding. “If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities,” Becker said.
On the other hand, employees need to practice mindfulness as it helps reduce anxiety. This will help them ‘be present’ in family interactions, which could help reduce conflict and improve relationship satisfaction. Mindfulness is also within the employee’s control when email expectations are not.
“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before,” said Becker. “Employer expectations during nonwork hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their nonwork time. Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations.”
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