The more time spent on work emails outside of working hours, the greater the instances of emotional exhaustion – and the average person in Belkin’s study spent eight hours a week checking emails out of hours. Subsequent research by Virginia Tech University found that people don’t have to check emails, but just have to believe they’re expected to, to trigger significant amounts of anxiety.
As well as causing anxiety that ripples out to friends and family, there are other serious health implications from staying connected. “If we don’t switch off from work we don’t recover from work,” says Anna Cox, professor of human-computer interaction at University College London, who specialises in researching work-life balance. “Initially that starts to affect your productivity. When you work you’re tired. Ultimately, if you don’t recover from work properly, it can lead to all sorts of physical and mental health problems.”
Data gathered by a regular survey of employees for the European Working Conditions Survey shows that those who report working more outside regular working hours, for instance, report higher levels of cardiovascular conditions and musculoskeletal pain.
But a blanket ban on emails outside working hours isn’t universally welcomed.
In France for instance, Gonord is uncertain whether the law has worked as designed. His employer didn’t compel him to check emails even before the introduction of the right to disconnect, but he would occasionally check in in order to keep projects on track. “If your company enforces the right to disconnect – by shutting down email access to employees – you have no choice to disconnect,” he says. “I’d feel a pressure, which is what the law was trying to prevent.”
Others feel enshrining the weekend in law won’t necessarily be effective, nor that it will be likely to be implemented in other countries.
“We’re a long way from that, I think, when you think about the way we have so much flexibility,” explains Cox. She believes we’ve swung so far away from traditional 9-to-5 working that implementing strict “timetables” for checking emails would be as vehemently opposed in the UK or the US as it was supported in France.
There’s one further concern, too.
“It’s unenforceable,” says Cooper. “If you’re feeling job insecure and there’s high unemployment like they have in France, are you going to go to your employer and say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m taking you to court?’”
Instead, Cooper feels co-operation is needed between workers and their employers to ensure they’re able to enjoy time away from the screen and the stresses of email. Delete your work email account from your inbox, and leave the worries until Monday.
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