Opinion: Revisiting the Past with “Off-Hours”

Smartphones may have made our lives easier in regards to research and media access and, of course, they introduced us to Angry Birds, but could these devices be responsible for some of our work-related stress? (Matt Madd/Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s 6:15 sharp on a Thursday evening in 1958. You return from the office after a long day. As you step from the car, you wave to your son, Billy, playing catch out in the front yard. Inside, your wife Carol is pulling a pot roast from the oven with floral potholders. Susie is setting the table. Sparky, the beagle, begs for a belly rub. It is time to relax and unwind with warm food and family. Ahh, the good old days.

While there is arguably quite a lot wrong with this picture, the 50’s did have at least one thing right: the concept of “off-hours.” If the “Disconnecting From Work Bill” passes, New Yorkers just might be able to revisit this simplistic aspect of the past.

In New York City, a new bill was introduced by city council member Rafael Espinel last week, that would make contacting employees after work hours illegal.

"There's a lot of New Yorkers out there that don't know when their work day begins or when their work day ends, because we're all so tied to our phones," Espinal told CNN affiliate WCBS. "You can still work, you can still talk to your boss, but this just is saying that, when you feel like you've hit your boiling point and you can't do it anymore, you're able to disconnect and decompress for a while."

Smartphones may have made our lives easier in regards to research and media access and, of course, they introduced us to Angry Birds, but could these devices be responsible for some of our work-related stress?

Think about it. What is the last thing you do at night? Check your phone. What is the first thing you do in the morning? Check your phone.

This short self-reflection reveals what we already know about ourselves: we are an addicted mass of screen zombies.

But did you ever think about how this constant stimulus might be affecting your mental health? While responsibilities used to have an exact location, such as a cubicle or a classroom, now are ambiguous. Where do they start, where do they end? And when do they stop. There is no longer an “off-the-clock”, rather an “on-the-clock” and “asleep-on-the-clock.”

Authors of a study conducted by Lehigh, Virginia Tech and Colorado State universities, identified off-the-clock email as a major work stressor.

They stated that “Email is notoriously known to be the impediment of the recovery process. Its accessibility contributes to experience of work overload since it allows employees to engage in work as if they never left the workspace.”

According to the survey of nearly 400 workers in varying industries, the anticipation that email evoked causes more stress and anxiety than the emails themselves.

Students can relate to this finding as the mere possibility of receiving an email from a professor can deter us from achieving tranquility or better focus.

Beyond the obvious impact of new technology advancements, there is logic behind designated leisure time. Watching a film at the cinema was distinctly different from that of a day at work. Perhaps we have to stop multitasking in order to reap the full reward or relaxation.

At the very least, employers who violated our right to de-stress would be charged a $250 fine and pay $500 to the employee in the state of New York if the bill passes. “Off-hours” might just become the new reality. Just don’t expect your wife to also be wearing a Donna Reed dress, pot roast in hand, waiting by the door to greet you after work.


Kate Luongo is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kate.luongo@uconn.com.