For years, doctors and counselors have warned that people who can’t quite disconnect from work when they’re off the clock are at risk of long-term fatigue. The compulsion to respond to emails and other communication after work hours has been dubbed “telepressure” by a recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology that found the practice can make you less healthy and less productive.
“You’re cognitively ruminating over these things in the evening and reexposing yourself to workplace stressors,” Larissa Barber, assistant professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University and a co-author of the study, told Time magazine. “It’s like your to-do list is piling up.”
The study found that increased telepressure was associated with burnout—both physical and cognitive—poor sleep, and more sick days. The researchers say that telepressure is more of a workplace phenomenon than a personal one—that is, it has less to do with your personality than it does your office dynamics.
“‘As soon as possible’ means different things to different people, but of course if you’re nervous about impressing your boss or co-workers, you probably think it needs to be immediately,” Barber told Time.
Moreover, it can feel really good to telepressure others by, for example, sending an email or text message with the expectation of a quick reply. To abate this, Barber recommends adding a line or two (such as “No need to respond to this message,” or “I look forward to hearing from you tomorrow”) to signal that an immediate response isn’t necessary.
Of course, thinking about disconnecting is easier than doing it. In his recent feature for Outside, “Reboot or Die Trying,” star political blogger David Roberts chronicles his yearlong effort to regain balance in his life after suffering from acute digital overload.