Women are more psychologically distressed when receiving emails or phone calls about work while they are at home than men are, researchers from the University of Toronto wrote in Journal of Health and Social Behavior. The results of their findings surprised some people who thought women would welcome the flexibility between home and work duties offered by modern technology.

The researchers gathered data from a national survey of US workers. They asked participants how often they received communications by text messages, emails and telephone calls about work-related matters during their free time. They found that females who were contacted often by colleagues, clients or their own bosses reported elevated levels of psychological distress. Males, on the other hand, exposed to similar levels of communications appeared to be less affected.

Lead author Paul Glavin, said:

“Initially, we thought women were more distressed by frequent work contact because it interfered with their family responsibilities more so than men. However, this wasn’t the case. We found that women are able to juggle their work and family lives just as well as men, but they feel more guilty as a result of being contacted. This guilt seems to be at the heart of their distress.”

According to their findings, a significant number of women have feelings of guilt when having to deal with work-related matters at home, even when their family lives are not directly affected. Males in similar circumstances do not seem to experience the same degree of guilt.

The authors suggest that expectations regarding the boundaries that separate work and private life are different between males and females, which lead to unique emotional consequences.

Co-author, Scott Schieman, said:

“Guilt seems to play a pivotal role in distinguishing women’s work-family experiences from men’s. While women have increasingly taken on a central role as economic providers in today’s dual-earner households, strong cultural norms may still shape ideas about family responsibilities. These forces may lead some women to question or negatively evaluate their family role performance when they’re trying to navigate work issues at home.”

“Boundary-Spanning Work Demands and Their Consequences for Guilt and Psychological Distress”
Paul Glavin, Scott Schieman, Sarah Reid
Journal of Health and Social Behavior February 28, 2011 vol. 52 no. 1 43-57
doi: 10.1177/0022146510395023

Written by Christian Nordqvist