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Employers should help employees switch off from work

Employees feel pressure from supervisors, colleagues and technology to work during their free time

Employers should be doing more to ensure employees don't feel pressured to work outside of their contracted hours, according to research from the University of Surrey.

Its literature review of qualitative research found that employees felt pressure to work during their free time from many different sources, including from supervisors and colleagues. The perceived pressures were also higher when these sources were vague about what's actually expected.

PhD researcher Svenja Schlachter from the University of Surrey warned that failure to disconnect from work can negatively affect a person’s wellbeing. “Many individuals report feeling pressured into logging in after hours to complete work; a task that is becoming more commonplace with the advance of technology,” she said. “However, the flip side is that some actually prefer the flexibility this offers.

“Although employers implementing policies such as restricting accessibility to emails outside of office hours take a step in the right direction to ensure a good work/life balance for their workers, such regimented approaches to when you should and shouldn’t be working do not work for everyone. Employers need to work with their staff to understand their individual needs wherever possible. However, employees also need to take responsibility for their working behaviour, as it is ultimately up to them if they switch their phone off or not.”

The research identified a number of factors that contribute to people choosing to work outside of hours. The internet and improvements in ICT have made non-manual work increasingly portable and accessible, resulting in employees finding it far easier to work during non-contracted hours.

Ilke Inceoglu, professor of organisational behaviour and human resource management at the University of Exeter Business School, said employers should “lead by example”.

“We have found the internet and new technology can give people flexibility in the way they work, and they feel this can make them more efficient and empowered,” she said. “But other people feel enslaved by the constant need to check and reply to emails, and managers must lead by example to ensure their wellbeing is protected.”