Off-Hour Work Calls, Emails Upset Women More Than Men

Women suffer when work invades personal life

The day my supervisor handed out mandatory work-issued BlackBerrys, I threw a full-blown tantrum (in my head, anyway), and tossed mine directly into the depths of my desk’s junk drawer. It sat there amidst sporks, gum-wrappers and a three-year-old-day-planner for all of five hours, until it was time to call it a night. At which point, I threw it into my bag and headed home, feeling like I deserved a big, big raise for even allowing the BlackBerry into my home. What I couldn’t understand is why some of my coworkers weren’t in such a fuss.

Now a study published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior suggests it may have something to do with my being a woman. According to research conducted at the University of Toronto, women feel much more burdened than men when contacted about work outside of normal business hours. Looks like that proverbial ceiling just got reinforced with double-pane glass.

The researchers surveyed more than 1,000 Americans to find out how often they were contacted outside of the office via e-mail, phone or text for work-related matters. As expected, they found that women who were contacted frequently reported higher levels of psychological distress than women who were not at their job’s beck and call. However, men who found themselves tied to their phones, BlackBerrys or laptops after work did not display the same amount of distress that women did, even though the men were more likely to be in touch with supervisors, clients and coworkers outside of the office.

Psychological distress is the scientific term for the effects of emotional pain, stress and mental conflict. Researchers measured distress in their study by asking participants how often they had trouble concentrating, felt like they couldn’t get motivated, felt tired or run down or felt like everything was an effort. In a nutshell, psychological distress is that feeling of being utterly overwhelmed, exhausted and worn down. Not such a great state for doing well at work or for feeling good outside of it. (Use iVillage’s interactive tool to assess your stress now).  

The more often work interfered with family and other important relationships, the more distress women felt. However, it wasn’t because they couldn’t manage all of their responsibilities. The study found that women could juggle their work and family lives just as well as men could. The reason women felt more put out is guilt. Even though women are just as much a part of the workforce as men these days, they still feel a stronger responsibility to tend to the home front, say the study’s researchers. This can make women feel like they’re not doing a good-enough job if they allow work to intrude on family time. It’s less about the logistics and more about emotional connotations of letting work seep into the home.  

Maybe you can’t turn off your BlackBerry, but there are ways to keep work from impinging on your personal life. For instance, how you spend your weekends can greatly determine how you feel about work come Monday morning, and how well you do your job. If you feel like your job is sucking the life out of you, find out how you can climb to the top (or just get through the workweek) without sacrificing your sanity

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