Electronics, work and our health


A study titled “Killing me softly: Electronic communications monitoring and employee and spouse well-being” has shown that when employers expect workers to monitor work-related emails during non-work hours, the result is a problem for the employees and their families.  

William Becker, a Virginia Tech associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business, wrote, “The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees, which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives.” The study shows that employees do not need to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects. The mere expectations of availability increase strain for employees and their significant others—even when employees do not engage in actual work during nonwork time. 

“The insidious impact of ‘always on’ organizational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit—increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries,” Becker said. “Our research exposes the reality: ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.” 

Prospective employees should be told clearly whether or not email availability in off-hours is expected, so they can decide on the suitability of the job. Employers should establish boundaries on when they expect off-hour work to be done, and how it will be compensated.  

There are several take-home messages from this paper that apply to all of us. The digital world of screens and phones has taken over most of our lives, even when work demands are not the issue. It is wonderful and amazing to have the knowledge of the world, past and present, in your pocket. Yet making time for talking face to face, reading or writing a book, doing art and playing music are still important ways of being human. Gardening, walking, hiking and running outdoors, playing sports and watching the sky—name your favorite and leave your screen behind for a while. But you might want to turn it on, just for a few minutes, to listen to “Killing me Softly with his Song.” It’s haunting.  


Sadja Greenwood is a retired physician and former Bolinas resident now living in Portland, Ore. Read more of her work at sadjascolumns.blogspot.com