Research by professors from the University of South Australia has found that continuing work-related activities after hours has an adverse effect on productivity and recovery.
The two-year study of 230 healthcare employees in the Netherlands showed that engaging in work-related activities beyond regular hours meant workers did not have enough time to replenish their energy through leisure or sleep.
These activities include emailing, texting and social media connected to work.
Professor Maureen Dollard, Director of the University of South Australia’s Asia Pacific Centre for Work, Health and Safety says that modern technologies increasingly mean that employees are tuned in to their workplace during leisure time, erasing the boundaries between work and home.
“There needs to be a confident dialogue between the managers and the workers to say how these sort of technologies are influencing their wellbeing and how it might be affecting their levels of fatigue and sleep quality,” said Professor Dollard.
“There are some highly stressful jobs and being able to detach emotionally and cognitively is really important, like nursing.
“What the study is showing is that if you finish work and still engage in work-related activities, then you’ll find it more difficult to detach in those areas, and this is really bad for recovery, work stress and sleep quality.”
The research also found that low-effort activities, such as reading, listening to music and watching television all help to detach individuals from work and replenish personal resources, while household activities like cooking and caring for kids positively affect sleep quality.
“The whole premise is that the psychological and physical health and wellbeing of the employees is paramount,” said Professor Dollard.
“We need to keep our eye on what work requires and what family requires, making sure these things are in balance.”
Published in Environmental Research and Public Health, the Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Off-Job Activities on Recovery and Sleep study was designed and led by University of South Australia Adjunct Professor Jan de Jonge, with assistance from Associate Professor Akihito Shimazu and Professor Dollard.
Professor Dollard encouraged both employers and employees to take lessons away from the study’s findings.
“This is a nice study to demonstrate that you should not be requiring outside of reasonable hours for your workers to be switched on emotionally and cognitively.
“There can be procedural things that organisations can do, like when your boss sets a good example by not sending emails outside work hours and sets some clear parameters around that.
“Some devices are quite addictive as well, so being counselled in how to control the use of them is important.”