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Why “always-on” is a big negative

Adrian Matthews

The ‘always-on’ culture where employees have 24/7 access to email could be negatively impacting mental health as well as a range of other performance indicators from productivity, employee engagement and morale, new research from MetLife Employee Benefits shows. Contributor Adrian Matthews, Employee Benefits Director, MetLife UK.

The study found two out of three Employee Benefits Consultants (EBCs) said that initiatives that limit employee access to work emails outside of traditional working hours would improve employee mental health.

Over half of EBCs (55 percent) also cited that limiting email access would result in a more engaged workforce and 50 percent believe that limiting email access would lead to productivity improvements.

What is more, nearly two-thirds (61 percent) believe that curtailing the use of out of hours work emails could lead to better employee morale with just 9 percent saying limits would hit morale and just 6 percent saying it would result in staff leaving an employer.

Adrian Matthews, Employee Benefits Director, MetLife UK said: “There is a creeping acceptance that employees are expected to be on call 24/7, available to respond to any and every minor query.

“But the ‘always-on’ work culture could be an invisible handbrake on growth and likewise be impacting wellness, denying individuals to access the ‘off button’ by putting them on a permanent state of reactive alert.

“EBCs are right to identify the positives of limiting access to email to promote better mental health, employee engagement, morale and ultimately productivity improvements.”

A report by the Chartered Management Institute found the majority of UK managers spent an extra 29 days annually working outside office hours, more than cancelling out their annual holiday entitlement.

Matthews continued, “In our conversations with EBCs and in partnership with our corporate clients, it’s clear that organisations are starting to address the perils of the always-on culture and measures under consideration include developing rules banning internal e-mails after 7pm and at weekends; compulsory email-free holidays where an employer shuts down their email servers out of hours or automatically deletes emails when staff are on holiday.. However, staff will only change their behaviours after guidance from those line managers and team leaders who recognise the potential pitfalls of the always-on culture.”

The research also shows that nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of EBCs believe that placing limits on working hours will become one of the greatest priorities regarding employee health and wellness within the next two years.

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