Study: Blurred lines between work and home harm workers and their families
- The mere expectation that employees may need to work from home harms them and their families, according to a study by Virginia Tech University Professor William Becker. The study, "Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being," found that even when employees do not actually spend time on work at home, the idea that they need to can still be damaging.
- Becker said that being electronically tied to the office during non-work hours creates anxiety for workers, causing conflict between workers and their partners and/or family members. When employees should be engaged in home activities during off-duty hours, the study showed that work expectations can distract them, even when they're not taking work home to complete.
- According to Becker, "flexible work boundaires" often turn into "work without boundaries,'’ which he said further compromises employee health and well-being. He advocates that employers set time limitations on the off-duty hours when employees can respond to email. He also recommends that employees practice mindfulness, whereby they concentrate on being present in home or family activities once work is put away.
Technology makes it so easy to stay in the office long after you've gone home. The line between work and home continues to blur as employees have access to better tools on and off the job; employees even use their personal devices for work-related activity.
Employees regularly check voicemails and emails while at home or during vacation time. And studies show that workers sometimes curtail vacations or skip them entirely because they either fear they'll look like slackers or because they think they're indispensable.
Workplace cultures that expect employees to be virtually accessible 24/7 do so at great risk. Anxiety causes burnout and can lead to serious health problems for employees. Health problems lower productivity over time, resulting in distraction on the job and absenteeism. Trying to engage burned out, overworked and ill workers is a formidable task. Add on the high cost of healthcare to treat medical conditions and the risk is even greater.
Employers that don't give their workers any right to disconnect from the office may want to seriously consider the consequences of such a policy — and may need to look into an overhaul in their cultures to keep workers from feeling as though their jobs are jeopardized if they're not accessible 24/7.