Not Checking Emails After Work Can Create Lasting Culture Change

If you've ever had a big project happening at work, or you've taken a couple of days off, you probably know the feeling: you don't want to check your email, but you feel like you have to. Because what if something's happened at the office? What if your boss needs you? A new study says that you are not alone in your fear of missing out at work.

According to the study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, workplace FOMO can actually negatively impact your mental health if you don't check your work email during off hours. Specifically, the study found that this FOMO existed when employees were mandated not to check work messages outside of work. The study concluded that people who are already prone to anxiety might feel better if they stay connected to their job 24/7. If someone's personality is oriented toward needing to know what's going on at work in order to meet their own goals, then banning them from checking work email after hours may negatively impact their well-being.

These findings conflict with the way that more and more workplaces are banning email after hours in order to help employees maintain a better work-life balance. These measures, often known as the "right to disconnect", are intended to improve employee mental health. And while this new study suggests that this might not work for everyone, there is plenty of research to suggest that top-down boundaries at work can benefit plenty of employees.

Zackary Drucker/The Gender Spectrum Collection

Regardless of the social support levels of the people in your life, it's often seen as necessary to set firm work boundaries in order to avoid burning yourself out and maintaining your mental health. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Academy of Management Proceedings, when companies expect employees to be responsive to work demands outside of work hours, the employees' personal and relationship health suffers. And a 2017 article published in the same journal found that expectations that employees should always be available negatively impacted workers' emotional health and levels of exhaustion, leading to increased burnout and declines in mental health.

And these effects disproportionately affect people who are already marginalized in the workplace. A 2018 study published in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies demonstrated yet another way that the "model minority" stereotype negatively impacts Asian American employees, who are expected to work harder than white Americans despite being less likely to secure top-tier positions than their less well-educated white peers. And according to the Economic Policy Institute, Black women in the workplace have historically had the highest levels of labor market participation, holding down more jobs for a longer period of time than other demographic groups. Yet, for all that extra labor, Black women (especially queer and trans Black women) continue to be paid significantly less for more work than other demographic groups.

Zackary Drucker/The Gender Spectrum Collection

Employees who come from working class backgrounds are also disproportionately less likely to be able to maintain their jobs and a work-life balance, according to a 2015 article published in the British Journal of Sociology. The study suggested that this is in part because jobs that aren't 9-5 office jobs are often left out of conversations about work-life balance. This erasure of non-office jobs is particularly stark, given that working on nights and weekends negatively impacts people's social lives and damages their support networks, according to a 2016 study published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health.

So perhaps it's not just FOMO that triggers employees' anxieties about needing to be constantly responsive to workplace demands. It's also the understanding that certain people need to work harder to stay afloat amidst discriminatory workplace cultures. So if your boss does send you a weekend email with "don't read this until Monday" :) in the subject line, it's OK to take a minute to decide what's best for your mental health: taking care of it now, ignoring it until Monday, or finding a balance and skimming it so you can mentally prepare for what Monday morning will bring. Whatever you decide, your choices are valid, because you are ultimately the best judge of what you need in your work life.

Studies Referenced:

Budnick, C.J. (2019) The fear of missing out at work: Examining costs and benefits to employee health and motivation. Computers in Human Behavior, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563219303735.

Becker, W.J. (2018) Killing me softly: Electronic communications monitoring and employee and spouse well-being. Academy of Management Proceedings, https://journals.aom.org/doi/10.5465/AMBPP.2018.121.

Belkin, L.Y. (2016) Exhausted, but unable to disconnect: After-hours email, work-family balance and identification. Academy of Management Proceedings, https://journals.aom.org/doi/10.5465/ambpp.2016.10353abstract.

Tran, V.C. (2018) Revisiting the Asian second-generation advantage. Ethnic and Racial Studies, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01419870.2019.1579920?journalCode=rers20.

Warren, T. (2015) Work-life balance/imbalance: the dominance of the middle class and the neglect of the working class. The British Journal of Sociology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26487574.

Greubel, J. (2016) Higher risks when working unusual times? A cross-validation of the effects on safety, health, and work-life balance. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27412147.