Dr Gail Kinman: Downtime is essential for employee health and productivity

People differ in the extent to which they prefer their work and personal life to be integrated or separated, but some downtime is always essential for continued health and productivity. Employers have a key role to play in helping staff to switch off from work, both mentally and physically.

Evidence that long working hours can threaten health and reduce job performance is overwhelming, and organisations that reward staff for performance, rather than face-time, are likely to have a happier, healthier workforce. People should be encouraged to go home on time, while creative options for flexible working could also be considered.

Although technology has many benefits for both individuals and organisations, staff can feel pressurised to be ‘always-on’. People who work remotely or are deeply involved in their work may find switching off particularly challenging due to feelings of isolation or a reluctance to disengage.

Excessive use of email during evenings, weekends and holidays can erode the boundaries between work and personal life, and increase the risk of health problems.

However, The new nowhere land? A research and practice agenda for the ‘always on’ culture, published by myself and Almuth McDowall, professor of organisational psychology at Birkbeck, University of London, in September 2017, found that more than half of organisations do not provide staff with any guidance on how to manage technology in a healthy and sustainable way.

The first step is to identify why staff feel unable to switch off: they might be overloaded with work, fear losing control of projects, or working constantly may just have become habitual. Then, the most effective interventions are those driven by employees themselves, so focus groups could help identify the problems and options for change.

Managers are powerful role models, so it is essential to lead by example. Whenever possible, they should go home on time and resist emailing outside of working hours.

Dr Gail Kinman is professor of occupational health psychology and director of the research centre for applied psychology at the University of Bedfordshire