Tim Dornin
(Australian Associated Press)


Checking work emails or responding to texts or calls during holidays or after hours could lead to burnout, psychological distress and poor physical health, new research has found.

The University of South Australia surveyed 2200 academics and professional staff across 40 Australian universities and found that an expectation for employees to be available 24 hours a day is putting them under significant pressure.

“Since COVID-19, the digitalisation of work has really skyrocketed, blurring work boundaries, and paving the path for people to be contactable at all hours,” researcher Amy Zadow said.

“But being available to work both day and night limits the opportunity for people to recover – doing things such as exercise and catching up with friends and family – and when there is no recovery period you can start to burn out.

“Our research shows that high levels of out-of-hours work digital communication can have a significant impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, affecting work-family relationships, causing psychological distress, and poor physical health.”

The survey found 57 per cent of workers reported sending work-related digital communications in the evenings and 50 per cent said they often received work-related texts, calls and emails from colleagues on the weekends.

More than 25 per cent felt they had to respond to work-related texts, calls and emails from supervisors during their leisure time.

The research showed workers expected to respond to after-hours communications reported higher levels of psychological distress, emotional exhaustion and poor health.

Psychology Professor Kurt Lushington said managing out-of-hours communications could be challenging, but organisations had the power to discourage “work creep”.

“The starting place is measuring work demand so that an organisation can mitigate the risk in the first place,” he said.

“Once they do this, they can develop protective actions that can prevent the development or continuation of harmful workplace norms.

“At the end of the workday, everyone should have the right to disconnect.”