Anticipating Work at Home Can Harm Health, Study Shows

Bringing work home can have serious effects on health and wellness.

A new study from a Virginia Tech management professor shows that after-hours work expectations from management can be harmful to your health. As if you didn’t know.

William Becker of the Pamplin College of Business is the co-author of a study titled “Killing Me Softly: Electronic Communications Monitoring and Employee and Significant-Other Well-Being.” Clumsy title, but you get the idea.

We are, of course, living in an age where electronic connectivity is next to breathing, where the cell phone and the laptop sit next to the heart as human organs for children, adults and old people. But it is the work connection that seems to be turning on the bad health buttons, according to the study.

According to a release from Tech:

“The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives,” says Becker.

Becker’s study, co-authored with Liuba Y. Belkin, of Lehigh University; Samantha A. Conroy, of Colorado State University; and Sarah Tuskey, a Virginia Tech Ph.D. student, will be presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting in Chicago on August 10-14.

Other studies have shown that the stress of increased job demands leads to strain and conflict in family relationships when the employee is unable to fulfill nonwork roles at home — “such as when someone brings work home to finish up.”

Their new study, Becker says, demonstrates that employees do not need to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects. The mere expectations of availability increase strain for employees and their significant others — even when employees do not engage in actual work during non-work time.

Unlike work-related demands that deplete employee resources, physical and psychological, by requiring time away from home, “the insidious impact of ‘always on’ organizational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit — increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries,” Becker says.

“Our research exposes the reality: ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”

“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before,” says Becker. “Employer expectations during non-work hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their nonwork time.

“Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations.”


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