Is After Hours Work Destroying Your Productivity (and Health)?

Are you at risk of getting burned out at work? Oftentimes, employees leave the office after a full day, only to be bombarded with a stream of emails from their managers, each requiring immediate attention. Since we’ve all likely had this happen before, how can employees use personal workplace analytics to be more productive in the office and protect their valuable time at home? Since work-life balance is the ultimate goal, what role can technology play in helping employees achieve homeostasis at work and at home?

Recent research shows that if an employee is one of the last people to leave the office each day, she may want to rethink this behavior. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that spending too much time in the office resulted in a 40 to 80 percent greater chance of heart disease compared to working a traditional eight-hour work day. A separate study conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that working more than 11 hours a day increased heart disease risk by a whopping 67 percent.

But changing work behaviors isn’t easy. According to Gallup research, nearly all full-time knowledge workers (96 percent) in the U.S. have access to a computer, smartphone or tablet at home and over one-third say they frequently use these devices to check email outside of normal working hours. Given that some of the most productive times of the day may indeed occur outside of traditional 9–5 schedules (e.g. after dinner or early in the morning), how can employees better understand, allocate and manage the time they dedicate to work-related activities while at home?

Research from Microsoft reveals that the average employee works 2–3 hours outside of work each week with 8pm-9pm as the highest work traffic times in the evening. In order to give employees a better understanding of how after-hours activities may impact personal productivity and stress, intelligent software like MyAnalytics allows for near real-time metrics that help employees better understand how much time they spend working at home, while providing insights and personalized coaching to help these employees properly separate work time from personal time.

And working after hours isn’t all bad.

In the same Gallup study mentioned above, 79 percent of employees say it is either somewhat positive or strongly positive that technology helps people work remotely outside of normal business hours. Providing employees with flexible work schedules may indeed be the key to achieving work-life balance but it is important to note that work patterns vary across different ages and demographic groups. For example, frequent checking of messages outside of work hours is more common among men (40%) than women (31%). It is also slightly more skewed toward millennials (38%) and Gen-Xers (37%) compared to baby boomers (33%).

Also, employees with a college degree or higher are more than twice as likely to regularly check work email versus those with less than a college degree (48% vs. 23%). And the highest earners are about twice as likely as the lowest (53% vs. 25%) to check email after hours.

While advancements in technology have created less and less of a boundary between work time and personal time, there is still hope for finding a balance that helps people be more productive throughout the day. As in any behavior modification process, the first step for change is establishing an individual productivity baseline and identifying the times of day when work one’s activity takes place. From this, personalized dashboards empower people by providing recommendations and coaching to help them achieve their professional goals. In this vision, intelligent technologies and people work together to help reclaim precious time, helping employees live richer and healthier lives.

And regarding that string of after-hours emails sent by your manager, perhaps it’s time to have an honest discussion about that too.