University academics are at an increased risk of work-related stress because of a culture of being always available, according to University of Bedfordshire Professor Gail Kinman
Speaking at a symposium entitled ‘Switching on and switching off’: building e-resilience for work-life balance and wellbeing at the Division of Occupational Psychology Annual Conference 2016 on Friday (08th January), Prof Kinman presented results obtained from her research into the work-life balance of university academics.
In it she demonstrated how the high level of involvement and absorption in the job role typically enjoyed by academics makes it more difficult for them to ‘turn off’ out of working hours. The results show that the flexibility afforded to academics tends to be used to work longer and harder rather than improve work-life balance.
“Academics may therefore be particularly likely to engage with ICTs (Information Communication Technologies) for work purposes outside standard working hours,” said Prof Kinman, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at the University.
“The increasing evidence that email overload and lack of respite from ICT can lead to emotional exhaustion and cognitive failures raises concerns for their recovery, work-life balance and job performance.”
Prof Kinman carried out the research through an online survey and series of interviews with academics across UK universities. In them Prof Kinman analysed the workload demands, schedule flexibility and email management of academic employees.
She discovered that email access outside standard working hours was common and perceptions of email overload were high. Nevertheless, the ability to view emails at any time was generally viewed positively by academics.
“A considerable proportion of academics saw their personal and work time as inextricably linked, where emails were read and replied to anywhere and anytime,” continued Prof Kinman.
“Engagement with email, especially during weekends and holiday periods, had strong potential to engender rumination about work problems that, in turn, could impair recovery. This had serious implications for wellbeing and job performance.”
Some of those questioned even admitted to making ‘contracts’ with their families, outlining that emails could only be accessed at certain times outside of work hours. Yet the use of ‘masking’ behaviour, where emails were read in secret, was common. As such, academics disclosed feelings of guilt and admitted to conflicts with family members.
Prof Kinman explained that academics need to become e-resilient and more support to help them manage email overload.
“The findings emphasise the need for academics to develop e-resilience,” she said. “There is evidence that limiting access to email can reduce stress.
“The findings of this study have potential to aid the development of interventions to help universities develop email management initiatives that are congruent with the nature of academic work to help employees manage their ICT use more effectively and protect their work-life balance, wellbeing and professional functioning.”
The symposium, organised by Prof Kinman, also considered the necessity for e-resilience among non-academics and, through a series of presentations from experts across the country, looked at the implications of healthy engagement with technology.
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