It's the weekend. You're spending quality time with your family and friends. Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of a work email resonates from your phone. Do you read it now? Or do you wait until Monday? If you opt for the former, be warned: you might be putting your well-being at risk.
Researchers from the University of Zürich in Switzerland found that employees who allow their work to seep into their personal lives feel more emotionally exhausted and have a lower sense of well-being, compared with those who maintain a clear separation between work and their personal lives.
Sadly, this is likely to be a common problem; it seems that few of us manage to achieve work-life balance.
A survey from the Society of Human Resource Management suggests that around 89 percent of employees in the United States consider work-life balance to be a problem.
With longer working hours and increasing job demands, this is hardly a surprise. However, as the new study highlights, we need to be careful; letting our work trickle into our personal lives could have significant implications for our well-being.
This finding — as reported by the researchers in the Journal of Business and Psychology — may seem obvious, but what is interesting about the new study is that it sheds light on why failing to draw the line between work and our free time can have such negative effects. In a nutshell, it's down to the amount of time we allow ourselves to recover from work demands.
Studying almost 2,000 employees
Study co-author Ariane Wepfer — from the Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention Institute at the University of Zürich — and her colleagues came to their results by analyzing the data of 1,916 employees from German-speaking countries. Of these employees, around 50 percent worked at least 40 hours per week.
Each employee took part in an online survey, which assessed how well they separated their work from their personal lives. For example, they were asked whether they thought about work in their free time, and how often they worked at weekends.
Respondents were also asked whether they allowed themselves time to relax out of work to enjoy some hobbies or socialize. The survey also gathered information about the employees' sense of physical and emotional exhaustion, and whether they felt they had a good work-life balance.
Less recovery time leads to exhaustion
The results of the survey demonstrated that employees' who did not draw the line between work and their personal lives were less likely to take part in hobbies and other activities that may help them to recover from work demands.
As a result, these employees reported greater exhaustion, compared with those who put strict boundaries between their work and personal lives.
"Employees who integrated work into their non-work life," says Wepfer, "reported being more exhausted because they recovered less. This lack of recovery activities furthermore explains why people who integrate their work into the rest of their lives have a lower sense of well-being."
According to the researchers, these findings should further encourage employers to put policies in place to ensure employees maintain a good work-life balance.
"Organizational policy and culture should be adjusted to help employees manage their work-non-work boundaries in a way that does not impair their well-being," says Wepfer. "After all, impaired well-being goes hand in hand with reduced productivity and reduced creativity."
So, the next time work demands try to creep into your personal life, tell yourself that it can wait. You'll be doing your well-being the world of good.