After-hour connectivity is often associated with increased stress and decreased wellbeing, lacking psychological detachment from work, and increased conflicts between work and other life. However, contrary to a popular belief, connectivity outside working hours, or after-hour connectivity, may help reduce work-related exhaustion. This suggests that connectivity is not just a demand in contemporary work environments but can be an important resource too.

Research by Professor Anu Sivunen and her research team at the Department of Language and Communication Studies suggests that after-hour connectivity is not just a bug to be fixed, rather it is a workplace feature to be better understood. After-hour connectivity is not merely a negative thing for employees’ wellbeing. A conclusion made in the studies of her research team is that after-hour connectivity should not be viewed as a dysfunctional element to be eradicated from working life, but rather as an inherent feature of the workplace to be better understood as evidence arises that connectivity may prove to be beneficial too.

Autonomy at work promotes recovery

The findings of Sivunen’s research team indicate that after-hour connectivity is positively related to perceived control over when, where, and how to work. –This is Important, since greater autonomy can help employees reduce the emotional load of their work, Sivunen states.

This study offers a surprising view about the relationship between after hour connectivity and employees’ exhaustion, which challenges earlier views on this issue. Most often, an underlying conclusion of studies reporting on the negative consequences is that connectivity after hours is preventing employees to have the necessary time off to recharge their batteries and psychologically detach from work.

However, many studies on connectivity equate after-hour connectivity with constant connectivity or perpetual connectivity. But, employees typically have several opportunities throughout the day to disconnect from work, such as making a personal phone call or running personal errands.

This means that after-hour connectivity is not necessarily representative of ‘excessive’ connectivity but rather a way to organise the workday differently. These issues are particularly salient against the backdrop of the current health pandamic with employees increasingly working in different locations and at different times.

Sivunen’s research highlights the changes that digital tools have brought along to work and its interactive nature. For example, the FutuRemote project, which is funded by Business Finland, investigates these particular issues. Sivunen is leading a related subproject at the University of Jyväskylä. An approach that combines quantitative and qualitative methods helps look at new forms of work and technology use both more broadly at the organisation level and from the perspective of individual employees and their interaction.

Email can be used sequentially

– We think, for instance, that when employees check their emails when reasonably suited to their personal timetables, it improves their control over work. We do not suppose that employees should be connected all the time, but they can themselves decide when to answer the messages.

Anu Sivunen’s research themes highlight changes that digital communication bring to work.

These findings are highly important for organisations thinking about the future of work and different workplace configurations that rely heavily on dispersed employees’ ability to stay connected.

– For instance, some organisations have opted to limit connectivity of their employees by taking email servers offline after hours. Though done with the best intentions, such constraining options may also take away important sources of autonomy for those workers who seek to organize their work days differently, Postdoctoral Researcher Ward van Zoonen points out.

The researchers suggest that organisations should be wary not to throw the baby out with the bath water in this regard.

A more nuanced approach could focus on family-friendly work cultures and open communication about work-life demands with supervisors. This may help to hamper these negative impacts of after-hour connectivity while fostering the positive ones.

Exploring the changes in the interaction of future work, technology and working life is an essential theme also in the six-year profiling area of Emergent Work in the Digital Era (EWIDE), which received funding in the latest profiling decision of the Academy of Finland.

Sivunen and her colleagues at Department of Language and Communication Studies are doing research in this profiling area jointly with researchers from the School of Business and Economics, the Faculty of Information Technology, and the Faculty of Education and Psychology.

– A multidisciplinary approach is needed in order to gain a well-rounded picture of the future’s increasingly digital world of work without forgetting the human beings, Sivunen considers.

Award for an article

A publication by Van Zoonen, Sivunen and colleagues, which deals with after-hour connectivity, is going to be awarded in May at the International Communication Association Conference. The award is granted for a top paper in Organizational Communication Division. The conference is the most important international conference in the field of communication.

Information on the awarded publication: Van Zoonen, W., Treem. J. W. & Sivunen, A. (2021) After-Hour Connectivity as a Resource: How Connectivity Reduces Exhaustion. Paper to be presented at the International Communication Association Conference, Boulder, CO, USA (Virtual conference), May 27-31, 2021. (Top paper award in Organizational Communication Division).

Research team website at the Department of Language and Communication Studies: https://cocodigiresearch.com

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