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Disconnect from work good for health and productivity, says research

Worker answering emails from her bed
Constantly texting, emailing or otherwise communicating with co-workers and supervisors after work adds to job strain and impedes sleep and work performance, a new study suggests.
The study, entitled Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Off-Job Activities on Recovery and Sleep: A Two-Wave Panel Study among Health Care Employees, highlights the high demands faced by health care workers, which in itself can cause job strain and reduced work performance. The researchers also sought to identify whether particular off-job activities have a positive or negative effect on workers’ ability to unwind and ensure a good night’s sleep.
Lead researcher, Human Performance Management Group of Eindhoven University of Technology Professor Jan de Jonge, explained how reading, watching television or listening to music help people replenish mental resources needed to stay healthy and ensure a good night’s sleep. The study also found housework, cooking and parenting duties leads to better sleep.
On the other hand, this research found performing work-related activities outside of normal work hours has a negative effect on sleep quality and ability to unwind and replenish mental resources. This can add to the significant strain already affecting the health of health care workers.

Hazard of constant work contact

Unfortunately, being linked to work 24/7 is becoming the new norm with smartphones, tablets and other modern technology devices, increasingly blurring the line between work and leisure. A 2015 Angus Reid poll found four in ten Canadians check work-related email during off-work hours and three in ten respond in some way. Forty per cent say they work more hours because of these modern devices.  
This most recent study, and others, suggest both the thought of constantly checking in with work through these devices and actually performing work-related activities can add to the growing burden strain has on worker health.  

Workplace and regulatory interventions

The researchers conclude, “Managers should be aware that allocating job demands during leisure time may be negative for employee health and well-being, which in turn may have a destructive effect on employee performance. Furthermore, management should create a work climate in which working beyond regular work hours is not business as usual.”
The need and the right to disconnect from work is gaining traction in terms of workplace and regulatory interventions in some jurisdictions, including France and Germany.
Just last year, the Canadian government considered whether changes to modernize labour standards governing the federal public service should include new rules allowing employees to ignore email outside of work hours. Despite the government’s consultation, which found more than 90 per cent of Canadians surveyed believe employees should have the right not to respond to communication outside work hours, recent amendments to the Canada Labour Code did not include any such protection.  
In Ontario, employment laws were overhauled in November 2017 and similarly failed to address right to disconnect.

Related WHSC resources

For our part, Workers Health & Safety Centre continues to assist workplace parties through training programs and information services aimed at raising awareness about hours of work, work stress and many other factors hindering the pursuit of work-life balance and healthier work.

To learn more:
Call: 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training services representative