What could be so bad about answering a few emails in the evening? Perhaps something urgent pops up, we are tidying up an issue from the day, or trying to get ahead for tomorrow. Always being online and available is one of the ways we demonstrate our work ethic and professionalism.
But the creep of digital communications into our entire lives is not as harmless as we think.
Our new research shows how prevalent out-of-hours communication is. And how damaging it is to our mental and physical health.
Colleagues and I are studying how digital communication impacts work stress, work-life balance, health and sleep.
We surveyed more than 2,200 academic and professional employees across 40 universities from June to November 2020. We specifically looked at universities given the advancing technological changes in the sector and importance of universities to our economic, social and cultural prosperity.
We found high levels of stress along, with a significant amount of out-of-hours communication.
– > 21% of respondents had supervisors who expected them to respond to work-related texts, calls and emails after work
– >55% sent digital communication about work in the evenings to colleagues
– >30% sent work-related digital communication to colleagues on the weekends, while expecting a same-day response.
– >Employees who had supervisors expecting them to respond to work messages after work, compared to groups who did not, reported higher levels of psychological distress (70.4% compared to 45.2%) and emotional exhaustion (63.5% compared to 35.2%). They also reported physical health symptoms, such as headaches and back pain (22.1% compared to 11.5%).
It’s not just the pressure from bosses, we also found the same pattern when it came to contact between colleagues.
Groups of employees who felt that they had to respond to work messages from colleagues outside of work hours, compared to groups who did not, also reported higher levels of psychological distress (75.9% compared to 39.3%). They also reported higher levels of emotional exhaustion (65.9% compared to 35.7%) and physical health symptoms (22.1% compared to 12.5%).
9 Signs You Have No Work-Life Balance
“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” That inspirational quote was said by country music legend, Dolly Parton. Truer words have never been spoken!
Working in modern-day America typically means that you are bound to the 9-5 “daily grind”. Your life now revolves around setting an early-morning alarm, commuting to work, punching the time-clock, working 8+ hours, going home, and doing it all over again the next day! If you are not passionate about your work, this lifestyle can become a major source of unhappiness.
Depending on your current career path, you may be experiencing heightened levels of stress and dissatisfaction. Perhaps you are thinking, “How did I get here? I hate my job!” As a result, you are probably suffering from a total lack of work-life balance, never finding a way to detach yourself from your work, so you can enjoy your personal life.
Perhaps you have reasons for staying in a job that you dislike, but nothing should compromise your personal health. Below are 9 signs that you have lost control of your work-life balance and are headed towards work burnout:
1.) YOU ALWAYS FEEL EXHAUSTED
This type of exhaustion is not normal – it puts you in an unending fog. Before you get out of bed in the morning, you already feel tired. Just waking up to the thought of going in to work makes you feel fatigued. This isn’t just a physical exhaustion; it is also a mental one.
Your personality dims and the things that once excited you seem tedious. When you get home from work, all you want to do is curl up on the couch and do something that requires 0% effort. The days of going out with friend or accomplishing a goal are over. You are too tired to care anymore.
2.) YOU ARE EXPERIENCING SOME HEALTH PROBLEMS
Are you getting constant headaches, stomach problems, or shoulder pain? These are key signs that your stress levels are too high and you need to step up your self-care routine!
For me, it started with debilitating headaches and neck pains. Then I started to have serious digestive/gut issues (painful bladder infections, constant acid reflux, and constipation). I began to gain weight even though I wasn’t eating badly. My nervous system began to act up. I would wake up at night shaking, shivering and sweating. I began to get anxiety. I had NEVER suffered from anxiety a day in my life. What was happening to my healthy body!
After visiting several doctors, I found out that my body was responding negatively to the level of work-related stress it was constantly under. My body was signaling for me to SLOW DOWN!
Over long periods of time, chronic stress can take a debilitating toll on a person’s health. My doctor informed me that stress is related to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and gastrointestinal issues. Finding ways to effectively relive your stress is an important step to making your health a priority.
3.) YOU CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT WORK
Even though you are off the clock, you cannot stop thinking about your job. The project you are working on, the deadline that is coming up next week, your demanding boss – you cannot stop thinking about them! As a result, this increases your stress levels and does not allow you to mentally and physically prepare for the next work day.
If you do not address this problem, it will take an effect on your job performance and health.
4.) THINGS ARE GETTING MESSY
You used to have an immaculately clean work-space and home, but you don’t anymore! You have too much to do at work and you are too tired to clean when you get home.
Even though your inner neat-freak may have quieted down, the mess is still making you feel unbalanced and stressed.
Before leaving work each day, try to get your work-space in order – even a little bit! And when you get home, try to tackle one specific cleaning project at a time. The hard part is getting started! Once you start, you will be surprised at how quickly you can clean a room.
5.) YOU CAN’T SLEEP AT NIGHT
You may feel exhausted and sleepy prior to crawling into bed. But the second you turn out the lights, your mind turns ON. You begin thinking about work, your ever-increasing stress levels, and your decreasing life expectancy. (No, seriously!)
This was a major problem for me. I would lay awake for hours each night – getting an average of 3-4 hours of restless sleep. I allowed myself to take sleeping aids twice a week because I did not want to get hooked. One night, after months of this, I broke down sobbing. I couldn’t go on like this! I was getting to the breaking point of exhaustion – Burn-Out!
6.) YOUR RELATIONSHIPS ARE STRUGGLING
As your work-life balance declines, you may start to respond to others in a negative way. Perhaps you are becoming increasingly argumentative and negative. Or you are withdrawing from the world, preferring to be by yourself instead of with your family and friends. While it is normal to occasionally experience negative emotions, you must identify when they are becoming a normal part of your life.
I had always been a “people person” and loved being with my friends. However, I began to turn down party/event invites to stay at home curled up on the couch. I felt too tired to socialize with others. This behavior only left me feeling depressed and alone. It felt like a vicious cycle.
If your mind is always on work, while talking to family or friends, you need to make an effort to get this bad habit under control! This behavior is one of the reasons you will lose friends. When your job takes precedence over the relationships in your life, you are starting to lose sight of what truly matters. Remember, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
7.) YOU CAN’T REMEMBER THE LAST TIME YOU ENJOYED YOURSELF
Your work-related sadness follows you everywhere! Get-togethers with friends, weekend events, and even vacations are always overshadowed with the thought of returning to work.
This mindset is going to take the enjoyment out of precious moments and ruin what should have been good memories. If you get to this point, perhaps you should consider changing your job or talking to your supervisor about more reasonable work expectations.