Workplaces are increasingly introducing policies limiting employees’ access to email outside working hours in an effort to combat burnout and work-related stress. However, a recent study suggests such initiatives could cause more harm than good. It also found workers with high levels of anxiety and neuroticism could be those hit hardest by such policies.
Researchers at the University of Sussex conducted in-depth interviews with employees from a range of sectors, who accessed work emails both on a desktop computer and on mobile phones, about how they coped with their incoming email in different situations. A further 341 workers were surveyed online.
The study found that strict policies on when staff could access email could leave them feeling less in control of their inbox, leading them to greater feelings of stress and overload.
The study’s lead author, Dr Emma Russell, says the findings make it clear ‘one size fits all’ solutions for dealing with work email are unlikely to deliver. “People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities to feel like they are adequately managing their workload,” she says, explaining that “a very agreeable person will prioritise goals to show concern to others, which may mean they respond more quickly to work email”.
It means company-wide policies such as those of Volkswagen, which configured its servers so emails are only pushed to employees’ phones half an hour before the start and after the end of the working day, may be to the detriment of some employees’ wellbeing: the very thing it was introduced to improve.