Electronic anxiety: the insistence on responding to work messages is slowly killing mental health | Health and wellness

At eight in the evening, the phone vibrates with a notification. It’s an email, from the president, on Sunday. She didn’t answer the question because it wasn’t urgent, but she couldn’t get it out of her mind either. explains William Baker, a professor at Virginia Tech and co-author of a study analyzing the impact of emails on a person’s well-being and immediate environment. The main conclusion is that the need to always be in touch, even if not explicitly, leads to a certain kind of stress, which they call electronic anxiety, It psychologically affects employees and their relatives.

titled Kill us softlyResearchers surveyed more than 400 employees from various industries and their close associates and confirmed that excessive email monitoring during non-working hours is detrimental to well-being and relationships. Obsessively checking your inbox is a red flag, but just thinking about it is a detriment, too. The reason is the anticipation of the response that is generated from each person’s experiences in their work environment. “Seeing your boss is always checking email, knowing they’re sending it on the weekend or at night, creates anticipation, so it doesn’t matter what the company policy or the law is. If you feel pressure from your supervisor, that will take precedence over anything else,” he explains. Baker.

Negative affect is passed on to partners or children when the employee ceases to perform personal or family functions because he is unable to remove himself completely from work. As the author explains, small triggers, such as when a family is engaged in a recreational activity but a family member is checking email or thinking about problems at work, make effective communication between family members difficult.

By going through it again and again, family members may become acutely aware of these interruptions or distractions, leading to increased conflict and anxiety. Unlike cases where an employee can handle an increased workload by investing resources to finish a task and then mentally and physically closing it, anticipating email responses creates constant demand.

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In Spain, the Law on the Protection of Personal Data and the Guarantee of Digital Rights regulates the obligations that companies have to impose on the use of communication technologies to guarantee the right to rest and safety of working hours. Olga Merino Suarez, regional coordinator for prevention of Fremap, the Social Security Work Accident and Occupational Diseases Reciprocal Collection, insists that the regulatory framework must support this right to rest. “Companies are obliged to draw up an internal policy in which the methods for exercising the right to dismissal and training and awareness procedures are defined,” says the expert, who is also in charge of the applied psychological group of the aforementioned organization.

Merino Suarez considers that the “improvised” remote work, which began with the pandemic, has increased levels of anxiety and stress, and adds that by losing physical ties, people try to maintain ties by always being present, whether by e-mail or via channels. instant messaging. The increasing use of social networks, also by the company, makes it more difficult to disconnect because the worker is supposed to always have the mobile phone in his hands, making him feel the need to answer as quickly as possible. “IM can be more harmful than email because it requires attention more quickly,” says Professor Baker, who collected data for his study in 2015.

To reverse the problem, the Fremap psychologist explains, each worker has a responsibility to stop and seek detachment. According to him, it is difficult to find boundaries in work matters if people have the same habits in personal matters, such as excessive use of social networks. “The functional base that maintains anxiety or negative effects is the same in both cases,” Merino Suarez confirms.

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Both experts agree that responsiveness in the workplace is part of the culture of immediacy we currently live in, but there is a remedy. “The concept of urgency is not necessarily real and can be regulated,” adds the person in charge of Fremap. For this, he argues that it is necessary to learn to distinguish between the “urgent and the important” and also to create resources that modify behavior, such as rationally choosing the moment to respond, dosing access to applications, and analyzing self-demand. and outlook. Likewise, Merino Suarez believes business leaders should be the “integral element” of digital decoupling policies. “Their actions should be primarily aimed at teaching by example, raising awareness and educating all team members,” he adds.

The Virginia Tech professor reiterates that notes, ultimatums, and rest notices are useful, but they lose their function if the team doesn’t get in the habit of respecting them: “That’s why policies or laws don’t really help. If some people ignore them and if leaders reward those people, in the end it goes straight to punishing people.” Those who follow them (…) may be an implicit punishment, such as hindered career advancement or not being valued as leaders. The rest. It is a way of subverting the laws.” For example, Baker says vacations are required by law, yet, in the United States, “most people” never fully use them, either because of an overworked workload or looking good with their bosses.

The negative effects of email and instant messaging may seem minor when compared to the cumbersome procedures and demands Unreasonable and unattainable goals experienced by many professionals. An obsession with staying active is another component of burnout syndrome.

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A report by Fremap, which analyzed 380,000 sick leaves in a sample of 3 million people, showed that between 2015 and 2021, the average incidence of TMCs due to mental and behavioral disorders (TMC) increased by 17% for all age groups. . In 2021, if the impact of Covid-19 is ignored, mental illness was the cause of 15% of days off, which is the second most representative cause behind only musculoskeletal disorders. In addition to its importance to people, it also burdens the pocket. Temporary disablements caused companies to have an average salary and contribution cost of €2,053.36 per leave in 2021, according to the same report.

William Baker summarizes that one of the aims of his study was precisely to show companies that they are not interested in overburdening workers. “Companies think they get something for free when people work more than they should, but we have tried to show that there is a price to pay in the long run. If your employees are exhausted and have problems in their family lives, he concludes, this will end up driving them away from the organization. “.

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