After-Hour Connection: Exploring the Unforeseen Benefits
With advances in technology and increased remote work, there is a growing trend of employees staying connected after hours. We have likely all done it—everything from checking an email during the evening or burning the midnight oil on a project. What’s more, some leaders are even expecting that their employees remain connected, even beyond the typical end of shift times. This results in blurred boundaries between one’s work and non-work lives.
We have spoken before about the importance of maintaining healthy boundaries at work. When boundaries are not maintained at work, this leads to many negative outcomes including increased pressure, stress, and ultimately burnout. However, new research suggests that perhaps it’s not all doom-and-gloom.
A group of researchers (van Zoonen et al., 2023) recently conducted a study with employees from a large Scandinavian company. At specific points in time, they assessed how three primary outcomes: how connected the employees were post-shift, the degree of autonomy felt by the employees, and the overall level of exhaustion of the employees.
The study found that, interestingly enough, after-hour connectivity led to increased feelings of autonomy. With this greater autonomy, employees felt less exhaustion—even despite being connected after hours. The researchers believe that this is likely due to after-hour connectivity facilitating more job crafting—allowing the employees to modify the way that they work to better align the job with personal needs, goals, and skills.
How can organizations leverage these findings?
Provide flexible work schedules. When possible, allow employees the flexibility to work after-hours, but do not make this mandatory. For many employees, this may facilitate autonomy and job crafting—allowing for greater satisfaction and engagement. However, for other employees, this would result in spillover and have an opposite effect.
Train leaders. While the work has to get done—oftentimes requiring more hours than allotted in a typical work day—leaders must understand the costs of this. Accordingly, organizations should consider training leaders on managing employee boundaries, facilitating employee work-life balance, and respecting employee work preferences.
Solicit feedback. Keep an ear to the ground and consistently solicit employee feedback. How are your employees feeling? What’s their level of well-being? Engagement? One great way is through regular employee pulse surveys. By collecting data on a continual basis, organizations can continue to modify policies and practices as needed.
van Zoonen, W. , Treem, J. W., & Sivunen, A. E. (2023). Staying connected and feeling less exhausted: The autonomy benefits of after-hour connectivity. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 96, 242-263.