Experts say checking emails during the holiday period could be a health risk. 

A survey of over 2,200 academics and professional staff has found that employees who respond to digital work communications out of hours are more likely to suffer from burnout, psychological distress, and poor physical health.

The researchers found that in the past year;

  • 26 per cent felt that they had to respond to work-related texts, calls, and emails from supervisors during their leisure time

  • 57 per cent of employees said that they’d sent work-related digital communications to other colleagues in the evenings

  • 50 per cent reported that they often receive work-related texts, calls and emails from colleagues on the weekend

  • 36 percent reported in their organisation it was the norm to respond immediately to digital communication

The expectation that employees will be available 24-7 is putting pressure on Australian workers, according to researcher Dr Amy Zadow. 

“Since COVID-19, the digitalisation of work has really skyrocketed, blurring work boundaries, and paving the path for people to be contactable at all hours,” Dr Zadow says.

“But being available to work both day and night limits the opportunity for people to recover – doing things such as exercise and catching up with friends and family – and when there is no recovery period you can start to burn out.

“Our research shows that high levels of out-of-hours work digital communication can have a significant impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, affecting work-family relationships, causing psychological distress, and poor physical health.

“Conversely, workers who kept their work boundaries in check experienced less stress and pressure.”

The research showed that those who were expected to respond to after-hours communications from colleagues on the weekends reported higher levels of psychological distress (56 percent compared to 42 per cent); emotional exhaustion (61 per cent compared to 42 per cent); and poor physical heath (28 per cent compared to 10 per cent).

“Managing out-of-hours communications can be challenging, but organisations do have the power to discourage ‘work creep’,” UniSA’s Professor Kurt Lushington says.

“Setting up policies, practises and procedures to protect psychological health by developing a strong Psychosocial Safety Climate is likely to limit damaging out-of-hours digital communication. And, on a broader scale, this is already being considered in various Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and National Employment Standards.

“The starting place is measuring work demand so that an organisation can mitigate the risk in the first place. Once they do this, they can develop protective actions that can prevent the development or continuations of harmful workplace norms.

“At the end of the workday, everyone should have the right to disconnect.”