Brain and Body

For Your Health’s Sake, Stop Checking Your Work Emails After Work

January 8, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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E-mail stress is a real thing now. ​

Whether you get 10 emails a day or 100 emails a day, the way you manage your inbox can make a difference on your stress levels, a new study finds.

Even if your intentions are good, and you think that getting ahead on a few emails will help yourself and your colleagues out the next day — it can wait. It’s our need to feel in control that ends up backfiring on us, the study says.

A team of researchers from Future Work Centre in the United Kingdom surveyed about 2,000 study volunteers about how they managed their emails and how much stress they felt as a result of them. The participants came from various industries, sectors, and job roles.

In general, those who spent the most time staying on top of their messages and organizing their inboxes felt the most email-related stress. Thanks to the rise of technology, email stress is now another stress-causer to add to the ever-growing list.

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"Our research shows that email is a double-edged sword," said one of the researchers, Richard MacKinnon. "Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it's clear that it's a source of stress of frustration for many of us. The people who reported it being most useful to them also reported the highest levels of email pressure!"

Those who reported the most email stress displayed two distinct habits — they checked their emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night. About half of the study participants had push notifications set up for email, and 62 percent of the respondents left their email app open all day. Additionally, managers tended to suffer more from email stress than non-managers.

"The habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages, and the unwritten organisational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and wellbeing," MacKinnon said.Not only can stress lead to a multitude of other problems like memory impairment, heart problems, depression, and weight gain, studies have also shown that putting in tons of extra hours at work doesn’t even make a difference when it comes to productivity.

A 2014 study at Stanford University found that working 70 hours a week doesn’t necessarily mean getting more done than those who work 55-hour work weeks. Even reducing a 55-hour work week to a 50-hour work week only had a small effect on productivity, and the difference between the work output between a 70-hour week and a 56-hour week was even smaller. Basically, “that extra 14 hours was a waste of time,” as The Economist puts it.

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So unfortunately, all those extra hours you’re adding to your work week probably aren’t even really benefitting you — and certainly not benefitting your mental health.

MacKinnon says, “Despite organisations attempting to shape policies and procedures to minimise the negative impact of email, it’s clear one-size-fits-all advice is ineffective. People are different both in terms of how they perceive stress and how and where they work. What works for some is unlikely to work for others. We came up with a few tips to help some of those bad habits.”

The experts say to put away your phone in the early morning and late night — seriously, the emails can wait. Also, plan and prioritize your own work day before tending to the needs of everyone flooding your inbox with messages. Finally, consider turning off “push notifications.” Make certain times a day where you’ll check and answer emails instead of getting distracted from what you’re doing every time a new email notification pops up on your phone.

Remember to always put your mental health first — everything else can wait.

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