Scientists warn against checking work emails over Christmas

Why you SHOULDN’T check your work emails over Christmas: People who respond to messages out of hours are more likely to suffer from burnout, study warns

  • Experts warn against firms expecting employees to check emails this Christmas 
  • Working during festive downtime could have harmful physical and mental costs
  • At the end of the workday everyone should have the right to disconnect, they say

Working from home under current government guidelines means it’s easier than ever to do work out of hours over this festive period. 

But a new report warns of the costly physical and mental effects of letting work creep into your schedule over the Christmas holiday.

Researchers at the University of South Australia surveyed 2,200 academics and professional staff this year across 40 Australian universities. 

They found that checking your work emails over Christmas could lead to burnout, mental distress and poor physical health – and can even affect family relationships.  

Will you check your emails over Christmas? Surveying more than 2200 academics and professional staff across 40 Australian universities, researchers found that employees who responded to digital work communications out of hours were more likely to suffer from burnout, psychological distress and poor physical health (stock image)


A University of South Australia study published in June 2021 found poor management increases risk of staff depression by 300 per cent.

Men are also likely to become depressed because most workplaces tend to overlook their mental health. 

Lead author Dr Amy Zadow said poor workplace mental health can be traced back to poor management practices, priorities and values, which then flows through to high job demands and low resources.

‘Evidence shows that companies who fail to reward or acknowledge their employees for hard work, impose unreasonable demands on workers, and do not give them autonomy, are placing their staff at a much greater risk of depression,’ she said.    

Read more: Poor management increases risk of depression among staff by 300%  

‘Since Covid-19, the digitalisation of work has really skyrocketed, blurring work boundaries, and paving the path for people to be contactable at all hours,’ said Dr Amy Zadow, a psychologist at University of South Australia (UniSA).

‘But being available to work both day and night limits the opportunity for people to recover – doing things such as exercise and catching up with friends and family – and when there is no recovery period you can start to burn out.’  

Out of the 2,200 survey respondents, 26 per cent felt that they had to respond to work-related texts, calls and emails from supervisors during their leisure time.

Another 57 per cent of employees said that they’d sent work-related digital communications to other colleagues in the evenings. 

Exactly half reported that they often receive work-related texts, calls and emails from colleagues on the weekend. 

And 36 per cent reported in their organisation it was the norm to respond immediately to digital communications. 

The survey showed that those who were expected to respond to after-hours communications from colleagues on the weekends reported higher levels of psychological distress (56 per cent compared to 42 per cent).

They also had higher emotional exhaustion (61 per cent compared to 42 per cent) and poor physical heath (28 per cent compared to 10 per cent).

‘Our research shows that high levels of out-of-hours work digital communication can have a significant impact on your physical and mental well-being, affecting work-family relationships, causing psychological distress and poor physical health,’ said Dr Zadow. 

‘Conversely, workers who kept their work boundaries in check experienced less stress and pressure.’

Professor Kurt Lushington, also at UniSA, thinks employers should use their power to discourage working out of hours.  

‘The starting place is measuring work demand so that an organisation can mitigate the risk in the first place,’ he said. 

‘Once they do this, they can develop protective actions that can prevent the development or continuations of harmful workplace norms.

‘At the end of the workday, everyone should have the right to disconnect.’

UniSA published similar research earlier this year based on survey responses from June to November 2020.

Employees who had supervisors expecting them to reply to messages after work reported higher levels of stress (70.4 per cent) compared to those who did not (45.2 per cent), the team found. 

They were also more emotionally exhausted (63.5 per cent compared to 35.2 per cent) and reported health problems such as headaches and back pain (22.1 per cent compared to 11.5 per cent). 

At the time, Dr Zadow wrote for The Conversation: ‘The personal and social implications of blurred boundaries between home and work are serious. 

‘When employees are answering calls or responding to emails at home, this affects their recovery from work – both mentally and physically.’ 

Research by the World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation suggest that long work hours may even increase the risk of a stroke and heart disease.

‘We can focus on the immediate problem and reduce the extent of digital connectivity out of work hours,’ Dr Zadow said.

‘[But] ultimately our problem with out-of-hours emails and messaging reflects broader societal issues relating to the pressures of productivity, job insecurity and diminishing work resources.’


Working from home reduces creativity, communication and teamwork, a 2021 study from researchers at Microsoft has revealed.

Researchers at the tech giant looked at data from more than 61,000 employees at the company from December 2019, prior to lockdown, to June 2020. 

They found working from home (WFH) made workers ‘more siloed in how they communicate’ and forced them to engage in fewer real-time conversations. 

It also made it harder for employees across different departments to acquire and share new information, which could have implications for a company’s ‘productivity and innovation’. 

On the other hand, working from home meant employees were spending fewer hours in meetings – often criticised as overlong and a waste of time.  

The analysis was based on anonymised data describing the emails, instant messages, calls, meetings and working hours of the majority of Microsoft’s US employees. 

Microsoft revealed in March that it was giving its employees the opportunity to return to its offices after more than a year of shielding from Covid-19.

Going forward, the tech giant will promote a ‘hybrid’ model where employees can choose what’s best for them, according to its CEO, Satya Nadella. 

Read more: Microsoft study says working from home stifles creativity and teamwork

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