Office emails not ‘real’ work, but hard work: study

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Office emails not ‘real’ work, but hard work: study

A new study has shown that employees having to deal with work-related emails while at home are showing signs of stress and anxiety, and suffering potential damage to family relationships.

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A new study has shown that employees having to deal with work-related emails while at home are showing signs of stress and anxiety, and suffering potential damage to family relationships.
 
It also shows that employees did not see checking and sending emails from home as being real ‘work’.
 
Dr Melissa Gregg from the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney carried out the study: ‘Working from home: New media technology, workplace culture and the changing nature of domesticity’.
 
Interviews were conducted with 26 information workers from large organisations across different industry groups over three years.
 
The research project coincided with the rise of online culture over the past three years: specifically social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
 
Dr Gregg said that until now many people have considered these platforms to be part of people’s leisure practices that they engage within their time off.
 
Part of the job
 
‘But for workers in a range of office jobs, it’s become part of the job,’ she said.
 
‘And largely this has happened without any discussion at the workplace about implications for workload.’
 
Dr Gregg found that many of the interviewees believed checking and sending emails from home did not constitute ‘work’.
 
‘They would check email at night in bed, and as early as 6 am before children woke, so that they could focus on “real work” in office hours,’ she said.
 
Too exhausted
 
The study also found children using computers and other technology at home were affected by the workloads of their parents who seemed too distracted or exhausted with work to interact with them.
 
Part-time workers were found to keep email accounts open on official non-work days to ‘keep things moving’ and avoid ‘holding up’ full-time workers.
 
‘This study was designed to pick up all that extra work that goes on outside the office, which is generally sold to us as this new freedom to be in touch with work when it suits us,’ Dr Gregg said.
 
‘We found some surprising stories from people who said they were concerned that their children were addicted to the internet, but who were actually showing signs of addiction themselves. But these people didn’t see their use of computers as a problem because it was to do with work.’
 
Hidden labour
 
‘This hidden labour in the home also translates to a significant amount of unpaid work performed by women. It’s another factor in the ongoing gender pay gap.’
 
Dr Gregg says that many participants in the study reported increased signs of stress and anxiety.
 
‘The evidence shows that most people think it is just their own individual failing that they can’t keep up both with the technology and the amount of communication they are having to deal with,’ she said.
 
‘Once you see this message across industries you know that that is a problem that has to be dealt with structurally, not by forcing workers to adopt individual solutions.’
 
The study will be published in Work’s Intimacy, Polity Press, in September.
 
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