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Hybrid Working: The Rise of the After-Hours Email

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The past two years have seen a major shift in how and where employees work and what they value when it comes to employment. Many workers have begun to place more value on their work/life balance and what’s important to them in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Both employees and employers are becoming more proactive when it comes to looking after their mental health. The benefits of hybrid working have never been more apparent; for employees, having that flexibility has never been more desirable.

The Great Resignation, for example, is a global phenomenon that has at least partly been caused by workers focusing more on what they need and want from a job. One recruitment firm Randstad UK poll recently reported that up to a quarter of British workers were planning to leave their job at the end of 2021.

Taking the knowledge gained from Westfield Health’s 2022 Wellbeing Report, this article will focus on one aspect of work in particular – the after-hours email – discussing hybrid working, the shifting work/life balance and what employers can do in the future to improve their people’s well-being.

The effect of hybrid working

Implementation of hybrid or flexible working has been on the rise. Firstly, it was due to lockdown restrictions. However, even now, after they’ve been lifted and more people are returning to offices, working from home is an effect of the pandemic that is likely to last. Over one-third of Brits worked from home at least once weekly in 2022.

This shift towards flexible working has brought about many well-being benefits. For example, employees feel they have more autonomy over their work and can avoid external stressors such as commuting and noisy environments.

Westfield Health’s Well-being Report also found jumps in searches for ‘hybrid jobs’ and ‘Indeed, work from home during the late half of 2021, reflecting workers’ new priorities and desires for flexible working.

However, there are also drawbacks. With many employees’ desks moving to their bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms, the line between work and home life is also blurring more.

One poll conducted last year by the Royal Society for Public Health revealed that 56% of homeworkers found it more difficult to switch off after work. A problem worsened when we factor in the rise of out-of-hours emails.

The after-work email

Sending and receiving emails outside work hours has been an issue in workplaces for many years. This issue has only worsened with an increased number of people working remotely.

One study by Fasthosts in 2022 revealed that almost half of British office workers received 5–10 work emails outside their contracted hours daily. Most respondents also said that they tend to reply to them.

Meanwhile, another study concluded that the increase in emails during and after work has meant that the average workday is now almost 50 minutes longer.

This, coupled with hybrid working, has created an environment in workplaces where employees increasingly feel like they never leave work and need to be available 24/7. This can hugely impact their well-being, with many struggling to cope with the pressure of always needing to be online.

As one Australian survey discovered, extra hours and a feeling of obligation to reply to emails during evenings and weekends can lead to higher stress levels, emotional exhaustion, and physical health problems.

Sending and responding to emails outside normal working hours can also harm job performance. Rather than increasing productivity, the exhaustion of juggling emails and other tasks results in less work being done and employees feeling less engaged overall.

Our research has found that 51% of workers have said they’re less than a month away from burnout. After-work emails are contributing to the erosion of the work/life balance. It is a growing problem that needs to be urgently addressed.

The right to disconnect

These worrying increases in work hours have led to various calls for bans on after-work emails. It’s a movement often known as the ‘right to disconnect’. Some countries, including Ireland, France, and Spain, have already introduced laws to enforce employees’ right to disengage from work outside their contracted hours.

While similar laws in the UK are currently not under consideration, the interest is growing rapidly. Despite this, according to one poll by Well-being Partners, only 20% of HR Managers reported that their organisation had policies to stop or discourage after-work emails.

What can employers do to help?

Workplace culture is more important than ever. Building lasting habits is key to improving your employees’ well-being and making your business more appealing to potential recruits. In the case of out-of-hours emails, all employers and team leaders need to play their part in discouraging this practice from continuing and introducing policies that help re-establish the lost boundaries between work and home.

For instance, implementing screen time limits and turning off push notifications on mobile devices can help your employees truly ‘switch off’ after work.

Employers must take a proactive approach to create a consistent and health-focused culture that benefits their employees. Focusing on workplace-being also requires a flexible approach, with various health well-being policies that can fit the individual needs of both office and home workers.

As working habits continue to shift and evolve, priorities and well-being will benefit your people support their mental health and build a happier and more engaged team.

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