Receiving a work-related text while off the clock can be an awkward experience, especially if an employee is thoroughly enjoying the time off. However, despite arguments that this behavior is “wrong” because it could be seen as working for free, off-the-clock communication is, to some degree, inevitable for many companies. A recent University of Texas at Arlington study set out to determine what exactly the consequences are of off the clock, work-related communication, finding this can lead to anger issues that can affect employees’ work productivity.
In this study, researchers surveyed over 300 employed adults over a week-long period, studying their feelings when they opened a work email or text while away from the office. The researchers used social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter) to build a sample pool of contacts, finding that the employees who received work-related emails and texts at home became angrier more easily, potentially disrupting their personal lives as a result.
The investigators also found that the participants again became angry when they received a work email or text with communication that was negatively worded or demanded a considerable amount of their time. The results revealed that people who tried to separate work from their personal life actually experienced more work-life interference, suggesting that the after hours emails considerably impacted their personal lives.
The researchers identified two major categories of workers: the more introverted segmentors and the more extroverted integrators. The segmentors tended to keep their personal and work lives separated; not surprisingly, the employees from the segmentors category were negatively impacted the most when facing work communication after hours. On the other hand, the participants from the integrators test group generally always wanted to know what was going on at work, even after hours on their free time. Although some of the people from this group still grew angry when receiving these messages on their time off, the messages did not interfere with the employees’ personal lives to as great of an extent.
“Smartphones and the accompanying culture of ‘always on’ has made after hours communication ubiquitous. But, like everything else in business, it can be done well or badly, and implementation is critical for success. This is the new world of work communication, and these recommendations might work in one department of a company but not in another area of the business. The key is to develop your own appropriate communications rhythm within your department,” Marcus Butts, lead author of the study and associate professor in the College of Business at the University of Texas at Arlington.
The authors feel that the study is important as electronic communications have become the fabric of everyone’s life, seemingly increasing in prevalence every year. They hope that it will inform supervisors whether or not to communicate with their employees and when this communication is appropriate.
Solutions to off the clock communication
The researchers believe that if companies establish training for setting boundaries, such as what to say and what not to say in an email or text, guidelines for proper communication and what topics are best discussed in person versus over text or email, they can improve their efficiency and retention rates.
One of the most peculiar findings of the study was that people who received positive electronic communications after hours were happy; however, that happiness was considerably less enduring. So next time your supervisor tries to communicate with you outside of work, make sure you inform them to make that message a bit more upbeat before hitting the Send button.
Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer