Could Limiting Emails After Work Actually Cause More Stress?

Is the new trend of logging off after work backfiring?

By: Amanda Mushro
Cropped shot of a young businessman looking stressed out while working late in an office


Cropped shot of a young businessman looking stressed out while working late in an office

Photo by: PeopleImages


While more companies are jumping on the trend of encouraging their employees to disconnect from work while they’re home, new research suggests that ignoring emails after hours could actually cause stress.

In a study released by the University of Sussex, company policies that restrict work emails on weekends or after the workday could do more harm than good, especially for employees with “high levels of anxiety and neuroticism.” According to the research, some employees studied felt they needed to tackle work emails after hours to avoid having a massive inbox. Otherwise, they left feeling more anxious about work.

Researchers noted that employees usually have one of four goals when answering work emails: to show concern for a co-worker, to get their work done effectively, to preserve their own well-being or to have control over their work. So, restricting a means to meet these goals could add to an employee’s stress levels.

Companies like Volkswagen and grocery chain Lidl have experimented with cutting off work emails during non-work hours and, in France, workers now have the legal “right to disconnect” from work. Even New York City lawmakers have discussed a ban on after-hour emails. While these companies are trying to decrease stress and help their employees find a better work/life balance, researchers caution that these types of polices won’t work for everyone.

“People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload,” said Emma Russell, a lead researcher for the study. "[Blanket bans] would be unlikely to be welcomed by employees who prioritize work performance goals and who would prefer to attend to work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed.”

Then the problem arises that if employees are told they are not required to respond to work emails after hours, but some continue doing so, others may follow suit—essentially making the policy useless.

Researchers say companies should expand their study to remote workers and give more guidance and freedom to their employees.

So, which would you prefer? Are you the type of worker that could log off or would you need to check your emails after hours? Tell us in the comments.

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