Even during off hours, the mere anticipation of communication from superiors increases a strain on employees, a study has found.

According to the study, employees do not need to spend actual time on work-related activities in their off-hours to experience anxiety and stress.

Described as the “expectation of availability,” the study says anxiety over work may adversely affect the health of employees and their families.

“The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives,” said William Becker, a Virginia Tech associate professor and co-author of the study.

“Our research exposes the reality: ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”

There are things employers can do to mitigate the adverse effects identified by the study.

Becker said policies that reduce expectations to monitor electronic communication outside of work would be ideal.

When that is not an option, the solution may be to set a designated time for electronic communication during off-hours or schedules when employees are available to respond.

“If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities,” Becker said.

“Being upfront about these expectations may reduce anxiety in employees and increase understanding from their family members.

“Quality of relationships matter, as does being mindful and present. Turn your phone off, put it away and engage in your real life.”

Becker advised employees to consider practising mindfulness, which he says is effective in reducing anxiety.

Mindfulness may help employees “be present” in family interactions, which could reduce conflict and improve relationship satisfaction.



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