Unplugging after work does more harm than good, study suggests

Companies trying to help workers "unplug" after work are doing more harm than good for their employees' wellbeing, a new study suggests.

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Although banning workers from accessing emails after office hours could help some, it could impede others from achieving work goals which can cause stress, according to newly published research, led by the University of Sussex.

The study revealed that an employee’s email management after hours varied depending on what key personality traits they exhibited and what work priorities they valued.

In particular, curbing email use could be difficult for employees with high levels of anxiety and neuroticism - a personality trait associated with distress and dissatisfaction, the study said.

“People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload," Emma Russell, the lead researcher on the study, said. “When people do this, these actions can become relatively habitual, which is more efficient for their work practices.”

Russell says organizations should shift away from the “one size fits all” solutions for dealing with work and instead personalize work-email action recommendations according to the varying goals of each employee.

However, the study indicated restrictions on email usage are becoming increasingly prevalent within companies – citing Volkswagen as an early adopter.

Emails are only sent to Volkswagen employees’ phones half an hour before the start and after the end of the working day – and not during weekends, the study says.

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Three years ago, France passed a law requiring companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not check their emails.

The move inspired New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal who later sponsored the “right to disconnect” bill which would set a $250 fine for employers who require staff to answer calls and emails after hours.

The problem of always-on connectivity was indicated in a 2013 survey by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence which showed more than half of employed adults check work messages at least once a day over the weekend, before or after work, and even when they’re home due to illness.

The survey also showed 44 percent of workers responded to emails and messages while on vacation.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.