After-hours emails cause chronic stress? Researchers are investigating the matter

These days, it’s even harder than before to separate our professional and personal lives, because while a large portion of us work remotely, we have access to instant messaging and email at virtually any time.

And there emails, which, according to scientists, are a serious problem and stress factor – because it turns out that when we get a message from work (and since we have our phone with us all the time, it’s hard to avoid the notifications that pop up), we feel obliged to answer it as soon as possible, even if it’s not something urgent, and we’re already after hours. The topic so interested researchers that the combined forces of London Business School and Cornell University decided to take a closer look and see if this issue can be solved in a way that relieves stress of employees. And it looks like the solution is pretty simple – just assume that the phrase “The matter is not urgent, you can get down to it when you can” is added to the end of an email sent after business hours.

Think it doesn’t matter much? Turns out it does, as confirmed by a study on 852 full-time American workers who were randomly divided into two groups: a hypothetical sender of the email and a hypothetical recipient of the email. The researchers asked the senders how quickly they expected a response to an email they sent, while the recipients were asked to answer how quickly they felt obligated to respond. The results showed a huge disconnect between these positions, which the study authors say leads to a phenomenon called the “email urgency problem.” Because although senders did not expect a quick response when they sent after-hours messages, recipients did not necessarily feel this message and instead felt that all messages required a quick response, which caused them a lot of stress.

However, when the sender placed the aforementioned sentence at the end of the message, the stress was alleviated and the recipient did not feel such a strong need to respond. – From a practical perspective, our study may help mitigate the spread of an unhealthy work culture where employees feel obligated to stay in touch with their work, even when they are not expected to. And since email still remains one of the primary modes of communication in the workplace and one of the most common online activities, our goal is to reduce its negative impact – not necessarily less email, but better email, the authors explain.

Because from the experiments conducted, it is clear that all emails from work, regardless of whether they are sent during or after working hours, we treat as urgent and feel the need to respond to them, although we already have time off. This in turn has a negative impact on our well-being and can contribute to the deterioration of mental health, so taking into account both sides, which we are depending on the circumstances, it is worth developing a certain email etiquette, so that the sending party will not feel obliged to respond immediately – a short information that the matter is not urgent and can wait until tomorrow will suffice.

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