Why checking work emails outside the office is bad for your health (and how to stop)

How much time do you spend working on your phone when you’re at home? Find out why checking your work email out of hours is so bad – and how to stop doing it.

Did you know that the average person in the UK checks their phone every 12 minutes? Or that excessive mobile phone use has been linked to increased stress?

Much of our mobile phone use today can be blamed on our cultural addiction to social media. But not all of it. Research shows that 40% of people check their work emails five times a day outside office hours, and six out of ten employees check their work emails even when they’re on holiday.

This blurring of our work-life boundaries means that workplace stress is leaching into our personal lives, and we’re not getting the proper break from work we need to properly switch off, re-energise ourselves and allow our brains to unwind.

So how can you train yourself to resist checking your phone for any work emails when you’re outside the office? And why is it so important to do so?

Health and wellbeing brand Gear Hungry explains the effects that checking emails out of office hours has on our work, health and relationships, and strategies to help you stop. 

Checking your work emails leads to stress and reduced productivity

A study by Stanford University revealed when people multi-task, they train their brain to switch attention so frequently that it’s unable to focus. 

This means that, when you switch between everyday tasks and checking your work emails, you could be impacting your ability to concentrate. And, as a result, when you do try to focus on one task you could struggle.

Checking your emails outside of work has also been linked to ‘Anticipatory Stress’, a type of stress that occurs when we experience a surge in anxiety caused by thoughts of an event or specific occurrence.  

This can happen when we feel pressured to check our work emails in order to stay up to date on what’s happening in the office. Anticipatory Stress often stems from a lack of confidence and the consistent fear of failure, which can lead to a compulsive urge to work out of hours. 

This can increase as your workloads grows, and pressure to climb career ladders heightens. It’s easy to convince yourself that if you work harder and for longer, you’ll be more successful. But often it just leads to burnout.

Working long hours also often results in tasks being completed less effectively, and poor quality work – all of which only increases your stress, lack of confidence and the feeling that you need to keep working harder.

It can also damage your personal relationships

Constantly checking your emails when you’re supposed to be spending time with your family can also place stress on your relationships. Partners and children can feel that you’re never fully ‘there’, and that your work is a greater priority to you than them.

If you’re feeling overworked, exhausted and like you can’t switch off, your own stress levels will rise too, leaving you less to give to your family. You can end up feeling resentful that they’re not supportive of your career, or that they want things from you (time, attention, energy) that you just don’t have to give.

No wonder then that so many divorce lawyers cite overwork as a common cause of relationship breakdown.

Three ways you can stop checking your work emails at home

So if you want to spend less time checking your work emails at home, and more time switching off or properly with your family (rather than with one eye on your phone), here are three strategies you can use.

1) Work smarter

To help you resist the urge to check your phone at home, get into a new routine before you leave the office.

As you get close to the time you head home, plan out the next’s days tasks. If you haven’t completed everything you wanted to achieve that day, add them to the list. (We use a Success List.)

With everything either completed or planned out, you won’t have any niggles or worries when you’re at home. And if you do remember something once you’ve left, make a note of it to add to your plan the next day.

2) Tell people you’re unavailable

If people know you’re available out of office hours, then they’ll contact you – and expect a reply.

It’s not unreasonable to set the expectation that you only check your email in working hours (with the exception of specific projects or emergencies). Not only will this train your colleagues and managers not to contact you in the evenings and weekends with the expectation of a response, but sets firm boundaries that will gain you more respect.

By making it clear you have a no work emails at home policy, you’ll also remove any pressure you feel to ‘just’ quickly check your phone. You’ll know that no one is expecting you to read their emails when you’re at home.

Initially it may feel strange to be so disconnected, but after a while you’ll get used to it, and won’t even think about what’s happening at work.

This means you’ll get a proper break from work, so when you do return the following day or week, you’re properly rested and have the clear mind required to come up with fresh ideas, and the energy to work productively when you are paid to be at work.

3) Disconnect from temptation 

The easiest way to remove the temptation to check work emails at home is simply not to have them on your phone! If you have a work device keep that switched off when you’re away from the office. And remove your work email from your personal phone.

Unless it is in your contract, your employer cannot force you to work outside office hours (and checking your emails counts as ‘work’). So draw a firm line between your work and your home life – and save checking your work emails for when you’re paid to do so.

Read more productivity advice

The more productive you are during your working day, the more confident you’ll feel about your work – and the less pressure you’ll feel under to check your emails out of office hours.

Here are some articles on productivity (and phone addiction) we recommend reading if this article resonates with you:

Photo by Tony Lam Hoang