After-hour Connectivity: A bug to be fixed or an organizational reality to be better understood?

We are happy to announce that our study on after-hour connectivity received a top-paper award in the organizational communication division at the International Communication Association (ICA) conference, which will be held in May, 2021. Below we provide a short summary of the study.

Contemporary job designs often require employees to use a multitude of different communication technologies to collaborate with colleagues across temporal and spatial boundaries. After-hour connectivity refers to employees’ availability for work during non-work time. Employees often manage the extent to which they are available to work using their mobile devices also allowing continuous connectivity beyond the traditional constraints of time and space. In contemporary organizational realities after-hour connectivity by individual employees is often viewed as a bug to be fixed. Considering the number of negative implications associated with after-hour connectivity there seems little to quarrel with this assessment. For instance, after-hour connectivity is often linked with increased stress and reduced wellbeing, a lack of psychological detachment, and an increase in work/life conflicts. 

However, our study urges us to rethink our assumptions of after-hour connectivity. We suggest that we should view this state of connectivity not as a dysfunctional bug that needs to be eradicated from the workplace, but rather as an inherent feature of the workplace and a natural outcome of an economic environment that values service and responsiveness. Additionally, and arguably more importantly, we show that there is a state of connectivity that is not univocally associated with negative implications for worker wellbeing. 

As such our study provides an understanding of the relationship between after-hour connectivity and exhaustion that challenges its figure-ground relationship. The findings demonstrate that after-hour connectivity may actually reduce exhaustion. This result represents a fundamental shift in the way we think about after-hour connectivity. The reasoning behind most studies that demonstrate a negative relationship between after-hour connectivity and employee wellbeing, is that connectedness after hours is preventing employees to have the necessary time off to recharge their batteries and psychologically detach from work. In contrast our study demonstrates that after-hour connectivity is positively related to perceived control over when, where, and how to work. This is important as higher levels of autonomy are an important resource for employees that allow them to reduce emotional exhaustion from work. 

This is important for several reasons. First many studies on connectivity equate after-hour connectivity with constant connectivity or perpetual connectivity. However, especially in the context of remote work and during the COVID-19 pandemic employees have many opportunities to disconnect as well. This means that after-hour connectivity is not necessarily representative of ‘excessive’ connectivity but rather a way to organize the workday differently. These findings are highly important for organizations thinking about the future of work and different workplace configurations that rely heavily on dispersed employees’ ability to stay connected. For instance, the default approach has often been to limit excessive connectivity for instance by taking email servers offline after hours. However, such constraining options may also take away important sources of autonomy for those workers who seek to extend their connectivity after hours. Hence, we suggest that organizations should not throw the baby out with the bath water. A more nuanced approach could focus on family friendly work cultures and open communication about work life demands with supervisors as this may help to hamper these negative impacts of after-hour connectivity while fostering the positive ones.

The key take-away of this study is that after-hour connectivity can operate as an important source of autonomy and therefore help employees to reduce exhaustion from work. Hence, contrary to popular belief that after-hour connectedness is a bug to be fixed, after-hour connectivity may equally well be a much-needed resource in a work environment that demands timeless and spaceless work.

For more information and questions about the study please contact one of the authors. 

University of Jyväskylä

Ward van Zoonen (in English)

E: ward.w.vanzoonen@jyu.fi

Anu Sivunen (in Finnish)

E: anu.e.sivunen@jyu.fi

University of Texas at Austin University of Jyväskylä

Jeffrey Treem

E: jtreem@austin.utexas.edu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s