Expectations of Checking Emails at Home Affects Health of Family as well as Workers

 In Naturopathic News

Node Smith, ND

Technology has created an increasing precedent in many organizations that employees be available to respond to emails, and other communications, even when not actually at work. A recent study has highlighted that this expectation, regardless of any actual work being done, is detrimental to employees and their families.1

This communicative flexibility may be a double-edged sword

Dynamic communication systems, such as email, and other chat apps have created the ability for much more flexibility within employment roles, allowing for communication to be conducted virtually anywhere in the world. However, this flexibility may be a double-edged sword. On the one hand it may give a tremendous amount of flexibility, while on the other hand this flexibility may give the underlying assumption or expectation that it’s “always work time,” or that communication channels are at least “always open.”

Expectation easily taken for granted once employers and colleagues demonstrate that emails, and other communications will be handled during non-work hours

This expectation may be entirely unstated, though easily taken for granted once employers and colleagues demonstrate that emails, and other communications will be handled during non-work hours. This could be a significant source of overwhelm, anxiety and burnout.

Competing elements of home and work life are significant factors of stress, and relationship strain

This, as well as other studies, have shown that competing elements of home and work life are significant factors of stress, and relationship strain in people’s lives. Often times this equates to individuals not being able to fulfill non-work roles in the home, because they are bringing work home consistently. But this study shows that employees don’t necessarily need to be performing work during off-hours to experience this strain. The expectation that they are available is enough.

An issue with two contributing factors

It’s an issue with two contributing factors. One, we live in a culture where the insidious message is that we should “always be on.” This is a cultural factor that is often ingrained in individuals regardless of an employer’s specific expectations. And the second factor is the employer, who may be promoting unrealistic communication expectations.

For the Employee

The authors of the article recommend individuals who may be overwhelmed by the looming thought of being on-call, or needing to check their email at home use mindfulness practices. Being present with oneself helps mitigate the anxiety that real or false expectations can create in the mind. Mindfulness practices, such as breathing or meditation help to create this sense of presence, and create clarity on where one’s self begins, and where work begins.

For the Employer

The article also suggests that employers be more mindful of the covert and overt ways that time is requested, expected, or specifically asked for by employees. If there are communication needs after hours, perhaps these should be further structured so that individual employees are aware of times when they may need to be available, and which times they don’t have to be available. Essentially, this boils down to clarity of expectations, with upfront communication regarding job roles.


  1. Becker WJ, Belkin L,Tuskey S.Killing me softly: Electronic communications monitoring and employee and spouse well-being. Academy of Management Proceedings Vol. 2018, No. 1.

Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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