People are ‘enslaved’ by 24-hour email and businesses must take action, experts say

An increasing expectation to log on and work at all hours is damaging people’s health, researchers say

Ben Chapman@b_c_chapman
Wednesday 22 November 2017 01:04

Employers must take action to help workers who feel “enslaved” by the constant need to check and reply to emails outside of work hours, a new study has said.

An increasing expectation to log on and work at all hours is damaging people’s health and and changes must be made to prevent a 24-hour work culture becoming the norm, according to experts at the University of Surrey.

Researchers found that many employees felt pressured by their employer to constantly be available and to engage in work during non-work time. That feeling is exacerbated when expectations about what is required are vague, the study found.

A desire to prove dedication and ‘go the extra mile’ were also found to be reasons why people were working more than their contracted hours.

Employees can also find themselves in a feedback loop where they have been available in the past and so are then increasingly expected to be available in future.

“Many individuals report feeling pressured into logging in after hours to complete work and that is becoming more commonplace with the advance of technology,” the report’s lead author Svenja Schlachter said.

She cautioned against taking a blanket approach by banning employees from accessing emails at certain times, however.

Such measures are a step in the right direction, Ms Schlachter said, but “regimented approaches” do not work for everyone.

“Employers need to work with their staff to understand their individual needs wherever possible. However, employees also need to take responsibility for their working behaviour, as it is ultimately up to them if they switch their phone off or not.”

However, the researchers also found that some employees actually prefer increased access to technology and working outside of office hours because they feel it gives them greater flexibility and makes them more efficient.

Another of the study’s authors, Professor Ilke Inceoglu, from the University of Exeter Business School, said that while some people may perceive benefits to 24-hour working, others “feel enslaved by the constant need to check and reply to emails, and managers must lead by example to ensure their wellbeing is protected”.

Employers should therefore give individuals control over their own working patterns and actively involve them in any decisions or policies about technology use so employees can reap the benefits of modern technologies without being enslaved by them, she said.

Voluntary Work-related Technology Use during Non-work Time: A Narrative Synthesis of Empirical Research and Research Agenda, is published in the International Journal of Management Reviews

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