14 Aug Checking work email isn’t just bad for you – it’s bad for your partner too.
When I was living in Amsterdam with my ex-boyfriend, we took a train out of the city for a day trip to Harrlem. My boyfriend had a big, busy job and we hadn’t seen much of each other because of it. A day away together was meant to go some way to remedying that.
Yet as we set off on the train, I noticed that once again he was on his phone, lost to work emails, removed from the moment we were in. I was fuming. And I felt powerless. In my frustration, when we arrived I leapt off the train, ran ahead, slipped into the crowd, and stood and watched as my boyfriend walked across the platform and through the station. I wanted to see if he even realised if I was there or not, so invisible I felt compared to his phone. But so busy had he been looking at his phone, that for a good few minutes he didn’t notice that I was gone. It was totally demoralising.
A new study has found I wasn’t alone in feeling stressed and fed up at my partner’s constant email checking. A survey of 31-40 year olds, carried out by researchers at Virginia Tech, reaffirmed not only what we already know – the more time you spend on your phone, out of office hours, never truly switching off – the greater levels of anxiety and stress you feel, but the study also involved the partners of workaholics. The research discovered that even if an individual thinks they are happy with checking work email night and day, it can have a damaging impact on their spouse. Those with the greatest email habits had the unhappiest partners; the stress spreading from their lives into the lives of their loved ones. William Becker, who studies workforce emotion and led the study, said in his paper on the research: “If we drop what we’re doing with our families to check our phones it sends out a message that they’re not as important. If we don’t address this, it will only get worse and people will start to burn out, leave organisations, and have a lot more relationship problems”.
Needless to say, it didn’t last with my ex. But it had a big impact on my future relationships. I’ve stayed clear of workaholics, of people who can’t switch off. I’m attracted to people who can find and maintain a balance in their life (My current boyfriend isn’t on any social media and has a ton of outdoor hobbies). The irony now, however, is that I’m the one who can’t switch off.
The study’s results are interesting because we talk a lot about how tech impacts our own lives, but not so much those around us. Becker has several suggestions for how to be happier at home, such as cut off times for screen usage or mindfulness for engaging in the moment. But a good place to start is simply awareness: your phone addiction isn’t just bad for you, it could be bad for the people you care most about.