From Dr. Mercola:
By Dr. Mercola
The majority of US workers (52 percent) check their e-mail during non-work hours, including on sick days.1 Depending on your employer, it may be an unspoken requirement to respond immediately, but, more likely, you respond right away not because of actual workplace policy but due to a phenomenon known as “telepressure.”
Telepressure, according to Northern Illinois University Larissa Barber, PhD, is “the urge to respond immediately to work-related messages, no matter when they come.”2 Some might find this to be efficient, but what it really does is blur the line between your work life and your personal life, such that you may rarely get a real rest.
Barber’s study was revealing… those who felt greater telepressure, and therefore a stronger urge to check and respond to e-mails at all hours, faced some serious consequences. As noted in the Journal of Occupational Health and Psychology:3
“This experience [workplace telepressure] can lead to fast response times and thus faster decisions and other outcomes initially. However, research from the stress and recovery literature suggests that the defining features of workplace telepressure interfere with needed work recovery time and stress-related outcomes.”
What Are the Risks of Being Always Accessible?
Those who experienced greater telepressure, and therefore made a habit of responding to e-mails ASAP no matter what the hour, reported:
- Worse sleep
- Higher levels of burnout (physical and cognitive)
- Increased health-related absences from work
As Barber told TIME:4
“It’s like your to-do list is piling up, so you’re cognitively ruminating over these things in the evening and re-exposing yourself to workplace stressors… When people don’t have this recovery time, it switches them into an exhaustion state, so they go to work the next day not being engaged.”
This is not a uniquely American problem, of course. In the European Union, surveys show that people are finding it increasingly difficult to stop their work life from blending with their private life.5 And in Germany, psychological illness is the reason for 14 percent of missed work days, which is a 50 percent rise over the last 12 years.6
And according to a survey of more than 2,000 people, work topped the list as the most stressful factor in people’s lives. Workplace stress resulted in 7 percent of adults having suicidal thoughts.
That figure was even higher among 18-24-year olds — as many as 10 percent in this age group have had suicidal thoughts as a result of work stress. One in five people also reported developing anxiety due to work-related stresses, and even more disturbingly, nearly 60 percent reported using alcohol after work to cope.7
Without the necessary downtime during non-work hours, it’s easy to see how this stress and burnout could quickly spiral out of control. And the cost associated with all this stress goes beyond that of an individual’s health. It’s also costly to employers.
“Stress-related health expenses, productivity losses and the costs associated with high employee turnover rates is currently costing American companies an estimated $360 billion each year.”8
Germany Considers Law to Protect Citizens from Work-Related Stress
In the US, where close to one in four Americans receive no paid vacation or holidays, leading to a country known as the “no-vacation nation,” workplace well-being is not often an issue that ends up on the ballot (and least not favorably).9
This is not the case in certain other countries, like France, where a legally binding labor agreement introduced this year mandates that 250,000 employees “disconnect” from work in every way outside of working hours (and this is in addition to the 35-hour workweek the country adopted in 1999).10
In Germany, meanwhile, the labor minister has commissioned a study to define the cost of work-related stress to the economy, which might “pave the way” for an anti-stress act that was recently proposed by Germany’s metalworkers’ union. That act includes wording that employees should be protected from being “permanently reachable by modern means of communication.”11
Already, certain German employers have taken matters into their own hands. Volkswagen, for instance, stopped its servers from sending emails to certain employees outside of working hours back in 2011. And Daimler has given 100,000 workers the option of having their emails automatically deleted while they’re on vacation.12
Another Reason to Avoid Checking Your E-Mails After Work…
Checking e-mails late at night not only exposes you to work-related stress… it also exposes you to artificial light. The quality of your sleep has a lot to do with light, both outdoor and indoor lighting, because it serves as the major synchronizer of your master clock.
Exposure to even small amounts of light from your computer, tablet, or smartphone can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. The research is quite clear that people who use their computer or smartphones near bedtime are more likely to report symptoms of insomnia.13
Plus, when you’re connected to the Internet, your phone or computer are communicating with nearby cell towers, which means they’re also emitting low levels of radiation. One 2008 study revealed that people exposed to radiation from their mobile phones for three hours before bedtime had more trouble falling asleep and staying in a deep sleep.14
I recommend turning off electronic gadgets at least an hour prior to bedtime, but sooner is better. If you must check an e-mail at night, you can try a free computer program called f.lux (see JustGetFlux.com), which alters the color temperature of your computer screen as the day goes on, pulling out the blue wavelengths (which suppress melatonin production) as it gets late. You can also wear yellow-tinted glasses, which block the blue wavelengths of light.