THINK WEEK
March 29, 2020
Face the Brutal Facts
March 29, 2020

Separating the work – home relationship

 • By: Kevin Marlow | Vision Consulting

Do you feel annoyed, anxious, frustrated or stressed when your “home time” is disrupted by a work-related matter or do you feel anxious as a result of anticipating your “home time” being disrupted by a work-related matter?
Due to the impact of digital technologies, evidence is indicating that it is causing employee stress and impacting on the work – home relationship.
A study from the Academy of Management Proceedings has found that an employee may be suffering from excessive stress and anxiety about work expectations even if they do not check work emails in their off-hours. The expectation of being in contact 24/7 by the employer is enough to increase strain for employees and their families. In today’s connected world, a number of countries and companies are supporting the “right to disconnect”. Their policies and legislation allow the establishment of a boundary between work and home.
William Becker, from Virginia Tech, in his recent research has found that employees do not even need to be actively checking work emails after-hours at home to experience the harmful effects of always being contactable. Becker suggests implicit expectations from an employer that the employee is always contactable can trigger feelings of anxiety.
His research further exposes the reality that ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ that impact employees’ and their family’s health and well-being. Some governments have begun to go as far as introducing laws allowing employees the freedom to not have to engage with work outside of official work hours.
In France in 2004, for example, it was established that it was not misconduct if an employee was not reachable on a smartphone outside of work hours nor under an obligation to bring work home. In 2017 France introduced a law where every employee’s contract must include how connected they are with their employer outside of office hours. The law obliges organisations to negotiate these terms clearly with prospective employees.
Italy has also recently introduced a similar right to disconnect law requiring contractual clarity over an employee’s responsibility to communicate outside of general work hours.
Germany has since 2014 introduced anti-stress laws. Long-term research in 2017 revealed that the stress of being constantly in touch is indeed causing an increasing number of German employees to retire early.
Volkswagen implemented a company-wide freeze on emails back in 2012. The company set its internal servers to not route emails to individual accounts between 18h15 and 07h00.
Daimler in 2014 instituted a policy where incoming emails to an individual when on holiday were deleted and the sender notified as such. The idea is that not only will a holiday be left undisrupted, but the employee can confidently return to work without the looming stress of a packed inbox.
New York City is considering making it illegal for employers to require that employees be email contactable outside of normal work hours.
The dilemma employers face is the globalized nature of many jobs. Communication technologies permit connectivity across time zones thereby making many businesses more effective. The blanket banning of off-hours emails for everyone is therefore not a practical solution.
If the inherent requirements of a position require the availability of an employee through social media or email then such expectations should be stated formally as a part of the job’s responsibility.
Prospective employees knowing upfront what their job will entail is key to trying to find a balance in the future between constant communication and relaxed home time. William Becker also suggests there is an onus on employers to better manage organizational expectations with the knowledge that increased stress and burn out will only negatively affect an employee’s overall job performance. If not managed correctly this could also lead to staff turnover.
Source: Virginia Tech – Richard Hardy and the Academy of Management Proceedings.