After hours: working late and your mind

Is your work interfering with your personal life? Are you taking your work with you wherever you go and struggling to find work-life balance? If the answer is yes it seems that you are not alone.

Is your work interfering with your personal life? Are you taking your work with you wherever you go and struggling to find work-life balance? If the answer is yes it seems that you are not alone.

A study of the working habits of 1800 people by the University of Toronto found that 50 per cent of those surveyed regularly took work home with them.

What’s more, people with a high level of education – namely bachelor or postgraduate degrees – reported that work interferes with their personal life more than it did for those with a lower level of education.

“People who are well-educated, professionals and those with job-related resources report that their work interferes with their personal lives more frequently, reflecting what we refer to as ‘the stress of higher status’,” said study author sociology professor Scott Schieman from the University of Toronto.

“While many benefits undoubtedly accrue to those in higher status positions and conditions, a downside is the greater likelihood of work interfering with personal life.”
The term ‘job-related resources’ refers to the communication devices many of us use to stay in touch with work – often out of hours.

Think lap tops, smartphones and tablets.

Though these are often sold to us as ‘freedom’ devices (“connect anywhere, anytime”), they can actually increase our stress levels, if used to stay hooked to work after you’ve logged off for the day.

Researcher from the University of Kansas, YoungAh Park, studied the link between job stress and remaining ‘plugged in’.

“Competition in the workplace is getting fierce,” Park said. “People may worry about job security, want to increase their salary or advance in their career, so they feel they have to be more dedicated to their work. They show that by being available outside of normal work hours through communication and information technologies.”

She found that checking work emails using a smartphone or tablet outside normal work hours can be beneficial for catching up with work, but it can also lead to work-related stress that spills over to the home.

“If there are any unpleasant text messages or emails from work-related people – such as a boss, co-worker, clients, customers or contractors – you may be more likely to ruminate about work-related issues or worries.

“It will affect your feelings and behaviors at home, which could further influence people at home,” Park said.

More specifically, Park found work stress can leach over into marital or relationship happiness.

Limit after hours work-related stress: the tips

Park advises setting rules for use of communication and information technologies for work during non-work time.

Build others’ expectations about your preferred work-home boundary and work-related communications outside of business hours.

“Let your co-workers, supervisor or any work-related people know this is how you communicate outside work,” she says.

“There may be times when employees have to be involved in work during non-work hours for urgent projects or work tasks, but it’s still important that managers make sure employees have time to recover from stress after the work is done.”

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