Here’s Why You Should Stop Checking Email after Work
Email has been a blessing and a curse. Along with other forms of digital communication, it has made certain types of communication much easier and quicker. On the other hand, it has contributed to work spilling over its traditional boundaries, creating an “always on” workplace culture.
Many people instinctively find this intrusive, but recent research suggests that it is also harmful to our health. Wonder why? Keep reading to find out why checking your work email after hours is a problem and what you can do about it.
Work Email and Stress
It is no surprise that the widespread adoption of email in the workplace has also given rise to the phenomenon of the overwhelming inbox. Emails are much easier to compose and send than letters or memos—especially to groups—that we all have experienced a great expansion in the volume of written communication we receive. This is compounded by smartphones, which create an expectation of constant availability—even if we are off the clock or on vacation, work is never further away than our pocket.
Why is this a problem? One recent study found that awareness that a work email could arrive at any time creates “anticipatory stress.” On some level, our mind is preparing for the arrival of a message and what that interruption might mean. This makes us unable to be fully present or completely relax in our free time.
Checking email after work hours saddles us with constant stress and robs us of the rest we need to recover and function at our best.
Other researchers emphasize the fact that we require a period of rest after work in order to recover adequately and meet the demands of our jobs the following day. Checking work email after hours means we never experience that feeling of separation. Instead, our minds stay engaged with our jobs, and, by remaining constantly connected with our work, the quality of our work suffers.
In sum, the habit of checking our work email after hours saddles us with constant background stress and robs us of the rest we need to recover and function at our best. But why is this a big deal when it comes to our physical health?
The Harmful Effects of Stress
Our bodies have a sophisticated system to respond to threats in our environment. The adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol, triggering reactions like an elevated heart rate, more rapid respiration, and the mobilization of energy resources to prepare us for “fight or flight.”
Chronic stress also means continuously elevated levels of cortisol, which have been shown to contribute to immune disorders, depression, diabetes, and obesity.
Your digestive system can also be affected. Chronic stress leads to changes in gut bacteria and thus is also associated with bloating, poor nutrient absorption, and chronic inflammation.
On top of all this, any stress and distraction you experience as a result of your work emails spilling into your time away from work will also affect those around you. Your friends and family will get a more anxious and less present version of you.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance will help you carry less stress and be more present for the activities and people you care about.
How To Leave Work Email at Work
As you read all this, you may agree the problem is obvious. But we’ll be the first to admit that avoiding work email after hours isn’t easy.
One of the reasons why is work culture. With many businesses, there is an expectation of availability, or we simply don’t want to let coworkers or managers down. We may even fear appearing lazy if we set boundaries. Interestingly, the degree to which a worker feels this pressure is a big factor in how stressful after-hours email will feel.
Other reasons may include a fear of missing something important or just a deeply-ingrained habit of constantly checking your phone.
But, when you grasp the true impact of constantly being connected to your work, it’s clear that boundaries are needed. Here are two steps you can take:
- Have a conversation with your boss. You might be surprised at your supervisor’s understanding of your desire to have better work/life boundaries. Agree to clear expectations about availability to ensure that you are truly able to disconnect from work.
- Set boundaries for yourself. The other side of the coin is deciding upon reasonable limits for yourself and sticking to them. Simply checking email less often can lead to significantly reduced stress.
In sum, maintaining a healthy balance between work and the rest of your life will help you carry less stress and be more present for the activities and people you care about. And, just one small change can potentially make a big impact: after work, let your email wait until tomorrow. Given all the ways chronic stress impacts us—physically, emotionally, and relationally—this is no small matter.
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