Warning: taking work home may damage your health

Photo: Niran_pr / Getty. 

Mobile technology has become part and parcel of our lives to such an extent that many of us think nothing of answering the odd work call or email outside of hours. But research points to an alarming and growing incursion of work into our personal lives. According to a 2012 survey of 1,000 white-collar Americans:

  • 80% of respondents took work home;
  • 68% read emails before 8 a.m;
  • 50% checked emails while in bed;
  • 40% of people worked after 10pm; and
  • 57% read work emails during family time (including 38% at the dinner table!).

France has just taken concrete steps to ensure flexible working arrangements don’t lead to burnout: on 1 January 2017, a law came into effect that gives French workers the ‘right to disconnect’, ignore or turn off their smartphones in their personal time.

What’s all the fuss about?

As reported recently on this blog, stress affects one in five of Britain's working population and is the single biggest cause of long-term sickness absence in the UK. Having your work spill over excessively into your family life can be a major contributor to stress, ill health, relationship tensions and demotivation when you are at work. 

Depression

Researchers have found strong evidence linking long hours and overtime with depression.

Poorer job performance

Taking work home can get in the way of personal responsibilities to partners and families, and create tension. This stress inevitably feeds back into our work lives, where it can keep us distracted, less able to focus effectively, and actually make us less productive not more.  

Less time to unwind

Genuine down-time at home is essential to recharge after the demands of the working day. Being perpetually on call doesn’t aid our recovery one bit.

Less time for your loved ones

Your family and intimate others don’t just need you to do stuff for them – for your relationships to blossom, they need your undivided attention. So when your work and life are out of balance, everyone suffers. 

Less time being ourselves

Work might be important to us, but it is in the home that we usually find the deepest sense of ourselves and our values. It’s where we derive and replenish our self-respect. That’s why it needs to be zealously protected from excessive demands by our employers.

Everyday health issues

When we aren’t able to switch off after work, this creates tension. Exercising, eating and sleeping well are exactly what we need to recharge our batteries, but are often the first things we neglect or feel unable to control when we feel stressed.
 

Work can be stressful enough without it spilling over into your own time. A certain amount of pressure may help us perform well, but if stress is too great or too frequent, health and relationship problems are likely to follow – and that’s in neither your nor your employer’s interests.

And if you're having problems with this, it's likely you're not the only one. Bad work-life balance is often a symptom of workplace culture, and something that's best tackled together so you get to the cause rather than the systems. Talk to your union if you're a member - by working together you can help take ideas to management that would benefit all of you.

For more information about stress and ideas for what you and your employer can do to manage it, see workSMART’s Stress section.

Related links

You might also be interested in:

How to strike a good work-life balance 

Stressed at work? Don’t suffer in silence