How companies can de-stress employees forced to check e-mail outside work

Checking e-mail doesn’t have to be so bad. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

The Harvard Business Review published a really interesting piece Friday morning about employees’ attitudes about e-mail.

There’s a funny contradiction in some Gallup polls. The overwhelming majority of U.S. full-time employees say that working remotely — which can include checking e-mail — has been a positive development. At the same time, workers who check e-mail outside work report more stress than employees who don’t check e-mail outside work.

Since when is something that causes stress a good thing? That seems to be the case with e-mail, and the article offers a good rationale for how to fix this problem. The key is making sure your employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work:

Daily stress is significantly lower for engaged workers and higher for actively disengaged workers, regardless of whether their employer expects them to check email during non-work hours or not. And it is the vast swath of “not engaged” or “indifferent” workers who are most influenced by policy decisions of this nature. Among the “not engaged” workers who say their employer expects them to check email outside normal working hours, 54 percent report a lot of stress the previous day. Of those who say their employer does not expect them to check email, 39 percent report a lot of stress.

These findings suggest workers will view their company’s policy about mobile technology through the filter of their own engagement. Thus, instead of tinkering with their policies, companies would be better off developing a strategy to engage more of their employees. For instance, while more hours worked, less vacation time taken, and less opportunity for flextime generally relate to lower well-being in our studies, that doesn’t hold true when workers are engaged in the workplace.

An unrelated but startling stat from the piece — Gallup finds that 18 percent of U.S. workers are actively disengaged, meaning they work against the aims of their organization. That’s almost one in five employees! You can check out the entire story here.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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