Employees who receive work-related emails and texts after hours become angry more often than not, which can interfere with their personal lives, according to a new study.
For their study, researchers surveyed 341 working adults over a seven-day period to track their feelings when they opened a work email away from the office. The researchers used Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter contacts to build their sample pool.
“People who were part of the study reported they became angry when they received a work email or text after they had gone home and that communication was negatively worded or required a lot of the person’s time,” said Marcus Butts, Ph.D., an associate professor in the College of Business at the University of Texas at Arlington and lead author of the study.
“Also, the people who tried to separate work from their personal life experienced more work-life interference. The after-hours emails really affected those workers’ personal lives.”
The researchers identified two major categories of workers: The segmentors and the integrators.
The segmentors want to keep their personal and work lives separate. Not surprisingly, workers in this category were most negatively impacted when facing after-hours work-related communications, Butt said.
The integrators want to know what is going on at work, even after-hours. They still got angry when receiving those communications, but it didn’t interfere with their personal lives, Butts reports.
The study is important because electronic communications have become a fabric of everyone’s life, noted Dr. Rachel Croson, dean of the university’s College of Business.
“Smartphones and the accompanying culture of ‘always on’ has made after-hours communication ubiquitous,” Croson said. “But, like everything else in business, it can be done well or badly, and implementation is critical for success.
“This study informs leaders not just whether and when, but also how to communicate with employees.”
Some of the recommendations the researchers make include training for what to say and what not to say in an email or text, setting boundaries for when to send electronic correspondence, guidelines for proper communication style, and topics best discussed face-to-face rather than electronically.
“This is the new world of work communication, and these recommendations might work in one department of a company but not in another area of the business,” Butts said. “The key is to develop your own appropriate communications rhythm within your department.”
Butts noted that one of the most surprising findings of the study was that people who received positive electronic communications after hours were happy. However, that happiness wasn’t long-lasting.
The study was published in the Academy of Management Journal.