After-hours smartphone use can badly affect health
An estimated eight out of 10 workers check their work email after-hours, but an occupational physician has warned that bad things can happen when you mess with people's sense of free time. The rise of the smartphone has created freedom for many, Dr David Allen said in a recent blog-post, but problems arise when workers feel pressured to send emails after work hours, just to prove their dedication. This has the potential to be "very disruptive to the work-life balance and the lives of both the phone owner and others". When the boundaries between work and non-work are blurred, he writes, people lose their recovery time. He points to research showing that individuals who lack control over their workload, or feel that the demands on them are unfair, are at significantly increased risk of dying early from conditions such as heart attack.
"So for a worker who has a smartphone, and there is an expectation that they should be checking their email at all hours of the day, there can be significant deleterious effects on their health," the Age quoted him as saying. Dr Allen also points to data on distraction and use of smartphones as another area of concern for employers. "There is a clear risk of serious accidents in smartphone users. Employers could be deemed responsible to some extent for these accidents," he said.
"Given that these accidents are foreseeable, employers need to be very diligent in ensuring that there are clear rules for smartphone use. These rules or policies need to be communicated and reinforced, and a record of that is advisable," he stated.
Some companies are catching on to the potential problems and trying to curb after-hours smartphone use. Volkswagen, Atos, Deutsche Telekom, Henkel, Boston Consulting Group and Google, for instance, have introduced strategies to limit internet access and/or email during non-office hours. But Dr Allen said that according to current thinking, these sorts of prescriptive guidelines will not work, and that cultural change is required. Instead, he suggests senior managers to become role models for acceptable use by not contacting employees at unreasonable times, not rewarding behaviour that seeks approval for working outside of usual hours, and trying to avoid copying people in on emails if not essential.