The unbearable overload of inboxes: A new way after-work emailing is killing your productivity

Lynsey Barber
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Even knowing there are emails building up outside work creates stress (Source: Getty)

Ever feel like the incessant attention your inbox needs is driving you to distraction?

Phone buzzing late into the night, disrupting dinner plans and generally more needy than a small toddler, the good news is that you're not the only one - the bad news is, it's bad for you.

Scientists have found that checking your email outside of working hours is causing emotional stress, exhaustion and generally contributing toward your feelings of never being able to switch off.

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While this may confirm everyone's first instinct about email management, researchers also found that even the spectre of email when we're being good and not checking it can produce the same kind of feelings because of the expectations attached to answering emails.

“Even during the times when there are no actual emails to act upon, the mere norm of availability and the actual anticipation of work create a constant stressor that precludes an employee from work detachment," said associate professor of Virginia Tech's school of business, William Becker, and co-author of a new research paper on the subject due to be presented this week.

“Such expectations - whether real or imagined - cause more problems, including burnout and work-life balance problems, than the actual time it takes to read and respond to after-hours emails.”

Read more: Frankie says relax: UBS bankers get two hours of personal time every week

Even if you manage to limit your exposure to after work email, it's still affecting your work-life balance.

“It’s not only that employees are spending a certain amount of extra time answering emails, but it’s that they feel they have to be ready to respond and they don’t know what the request will be,” said Samantha Conroy of Colorado State University and co-author of the paper.

“So if they’re having dinner with their family, and hear that ‘ding,’ they feel they have to turn their attention away from their family and answer the email.”

The scientists say this kind of understanding should inform how bosses manage staff policies on the matter.