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Hardly a week goes by without some headline discussing the dire state of engagement. Typically, these headlines are propagated using data from a consulting firm, whose data indicate that scores of people are disengaged or, at the very least, unengaged.

However, APA’s national poll in 2014 using a scientifically validated measure of work engagement (as opposed to a consulting firm’s made up definition of engagement) showed that in the general population work engagement manifests as a close approximation of the bell curve, just with a slight negative skew (i.e., more people fall into the higher engagement categories that the lower engagement categories). While those results are now a bit dated (after all, that was more than two years ago), I would suspect that a more updated poll would show much the same thing.

This issue surrounding many of the engagement headlines is a big reason why I was pleasantly surprised to read a piece written by Rodd Wagner last month in Forbes. He echoes the rallying cry against this engagement alarmism (or the Chicken Littles as he refers to them). When considered within the context of other data I have discussed on this blog, along with some of the scholarly research that has been published, here are few of the key pragmatic, non-alarmist and rational takeaways about the state of engagement in the workplace.

  • There is a difference between work engagement (a scientifically validated construct) and employee engagement (a consulting firm’s hodgepodge of satisfaction and commitment items).
  • Work engagement is about the employee working experience and its pleasantness/unpleasantness. Employee engagement is about how the company can convince employees to work harder and longer (i.e., “discretionary effort”).
  • Work engagement exists as a normal distribution, with a somewhat higher percentage of employees in the high engagement group than in the low engagement group. However, the vast majority of people will report average levels of engagement.
  • Employees do not have to be in the high engagement category to be high performers, and in fact, there is some evidence that higher performers are not always the most engaged.
  • In terms of a psychologically healthy workplace, work engagement is most associated with employee involvement, growth and development, and health and safety practices.

There is room for improvement when it comes to the way organizations approach work engagement, but most employees will not be enticed by cheap gimmicks (Don’t tell some of the tech companies that rely on said gimmicks to keep employees at the office for longer hours). If organizations want to actually enhance work engagement, they will need put forth their own discretionary effort to address issues in the corporate culture, in the way work is designed and in more adaptive and flexible work environments.

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Psychologists attending the Work, Stress and Health Conference can earn up to 14.5 hours of continuing education credit. There are dozens of sessions to choose from during the three days of the conference, all for a single fee of $60.

Unlimited CE credit will be offered for designated conference sessions. A single fee of $60 allows you to earn CE credits for as many of these identified conference sessions as you would like to attend.

Sessions offering CE credits for psychologists have been reviewed and approved by the American Psychological Association Continuing Education in Psychology Office. The APA CEP Office maintains responsibility for the content of the sessions. Full attendance at each session is required to receive CE credit.

Learn more about the conference and how to register at apa.org/wsh.

Sessions that are approved for CE

Thursday, June 8

9:30-10:45 AM

  • Worker well-being: Concept, measurement, impact (Paper Panel Session)
  • Overlapping vulnerabilities in the creation of occupational health disparities: Knowledge base, opportunities, and recommendations for future research (Symposium)
  • Safety training and intervention effectiveness (Paper Panel Session)
  • Successful recovery from burnout (Symposium)

11 AM-12:15 PM

  • Implementing integrated approaches to Total Worker Health® in different national contexts (Symposium)
  • Mental health and psychological well-being in the workplace (Paper Panel Session)
  • Organizational and Individual outcomes of workplace mistreatment and bullying (Paper Panel Session)

1:30-2:45 PM

  • Metrics of Integration for Total Worker Health® Initiatives (Symposium)
  • Novel approaches to safety climate research (Symposium)
  • Measurement Challenges and Opportunities Regarding Job Burnout (Symposium)
  • Individual and job-related factors linked to well-being at work (Paper Panel Session)

3-4:30 PM

  • Balancing Well-Being and Effectiveness: Practical Challenges to Optimize Success (Interactive Paper Session)
  • Stress and health risk factors (Paper Panel Session)
  • Advancing Participation in Health Research and Practice with Minority and Immigrant Workers (Symposium)

Friday, June 9

9:30-10:45 AM

  • The Harvard/NIOSH TWH Center of Excellence: Research innovations in healthcare, construction, and small/medium-sized businesses (Symposium)
  • Leadership in healthcare: Influence on climate, performance, and well-being (Paper Panel Session)

11 AM-12:15 PM

  • Participatory Action Research in Corrections: Individual and organizational factors affecting health behavior and employee well-being (Symposium)
  • Illustrating key principles for designing, implementing and evaluating interventions in organizations (Symposium)
  • Firefighters and Miners: Environmental Factors and Interventions to promote Occupational Safety and Health (Paper Panel Session)

1:30-2:45 PM

  • HealthPartners Experience in Promoting Emotional Resilience in a Large Health Care Workforce (Symposium)
  • Improving Occupational Safety and Health Training for Vulnerable Workers (Symposium)
  • Stress and mental health in police populations (Paper Panel Session)

3-4:30 PM

  • Incivility, bullying and their links to well-being and performance (Paper Panel Session)
  • Workplace practices, interventions, and leadership support to promote work-life balance and well-being (Paper Panel Session)
  • Safety climate measurement and assessment (Paper Panel Session)

Saturday, June 10

9:30-10:45 AM

  • Effectiveness of Total Worker Health® interventions and dissemination strategies of the Oregon Healthy Workforce (Symposium)
  • Understanding the needs of the aging workforce (Paper Panel Session)
  • Bullying and violence and environmental hazards in healthcare settings (Paper Panel Session)

11 AM-12:15 PM

  • Latino Immigrants at Work: Challenges and Perspectives (Symposium)

1:30-2:45 PM

  • Trauma-Informed Best Practices for Responding to Workplace Bullying and Mobbing (Symposium)


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The Work, Stress and Health Conference addresses the ever-changing nature of work and the implications of these changes for the health, safety and well-being of workers. The 2017 conference gives special attention to contemporary workplace challenges that present new research and intervention opportunities. The conversation would be incomplete without talking about the rise of the sharing and gig economy.

The conference's opening session plenary brings together three speakers who will share insights on research and personal experiences in what some are calling an emerging trend for the future of work.

John Howard, MD, MPH, JD, LLM, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, will provide an overview of how work arrangements have changed and how those changing arrangements relate to risk.

Sarah Kessler is a reporter for Quartz.com who covers the future of work and is writing a book about the gig economy. She previously worked for Fast Companyand has been published in CNN.com, Sierra Magazine, WBEZ Chicago, Salon and USA Today, among others. Kessler will talk about what she's learned about the changing nature of work and her experience as a freelance writer.

Dave DeSario, a labor activist and documentary filmmaker, will provide an overview of the temp industry, with special attention to occupational stress, safety, and health of temp workers. DeSario's film, "All in a Day's Work," will be shown later in the conference.

Get a preview of Kessler's experience in a presentation she made at the Aspen Institute in 2014.

Registration is open for the 2017 Work, Stress and Health Conference. Choose from more than 80 session and six pre-conference workshops that bring together researchers, students and practitioners all interestested in how psychology can improve the health and well-being of workers. More information and registration is at APA's Work, Stress and Health conference site.

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There is untapped potential for companies looking to get ahead in today’s competitive environment. While the C-suite has, for decades, been accused of doing nothing but implementing the next management fad, there is a small, but emerging industry that could revolutionize how we approach strategic decision making. Services provided by professionals, per a video from Fast Company, that amount to about a $2 billion industry, and that certainly has the capacity to grow in this age of data-driven technologies and a renewed emphasis on evidence-based decision making.

That industry is composed of professionals who serve in the role of “corporate intuitive.” It involves training people to use “their psychic awareness, their intuition, whatever their gut response is to ascertain what the person needs in their business.”

Um, come again?

Did Fast Company really produce a segment on the use of psychics in business?

Why, yes, yes they did!

So, while society in general wrestles with the issues of fake news and alternative facts, CEOs and others are spending money (remember, about $2 billion per year) on strategic initiatives that are equivalent to Peter Venkman’s ESP test from Ghostbusters (1984).


Not surprisingly, the scientific merit for the claims of these corporate intuitives is rather dubious. There is no systematic credible evidence (yes, credible, not the flimsy, anecdotal, confirmation bias, or retracted kind of evidence) for the existence of psychic powers of any kind. The CIA has even attempted to conduct a number of experiments to find evidence for the existence of psychic powers, but that has not worked out in the psychics’ favor. No, in fact, when any kind of rigorous controls are put in place, psychic powers surprisingly disappear.

So, at the end of the day, these consultants emphasize the need to embrace intuition and rely more heavily on gut instincts, except that a great deal of research shows that is likely to lead to some major decision-making errors. The Fast Company video even concluded by arguing that “you should take the chance” because “you have nowhere to go but up,” but as Simons (2002) pointed out, there is a high cost paid by organizations, managers and senior leaders who lose credibility or sacrifice the trust workers place in them.

I caution organizations to avoid reliance on corporate intuitives to assist them in solving any of their problems. I will not attribute any malfeasance to those who claim they possess such skills (as most of them seem to be genuine in their belief that such skills exist). However, the evidence for the existence of those skills is largely based on anecdotal evidence and storytelling, which leads to an overemphasis on hits and an increased likelihood of attentional bias. This is akin to developing a wellness program using the guidance of those who practice alternative and complementary medicine.

Decision making, in general, can be difficult, and strategic decision making can be even more difficult. There is a lot of risk, a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of data to be considered. While it may sound like a low-risk shortcut to employ a psychic to assist in guiding you, honing your inner psychic abilities, or advising you based on their unique insights, remember that the recipe for effective decision making involves a systematic process, the use of evidence, and the inclusion of various credible perspectives. None of these characteristics have ever been used to describe those who claim to possess psychic powers.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/whita / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Marlene Ramos makes a difference in the lives of older adults who live at the properties managed by HACE Management Company, an organization that provides housing and social services to low-income seniors in North Philadelphia. Her submission was the selected pick of the week during our "I Love My Job" campaign in February that highlights the positive aspects of work.

Here is why Marlene loves her job:

I love my job because here I have gained 103 grandparents. I get to bring them joy by doing things like play Bingo or trips to a mall, casino, or the Philadelphia Flower Show.

I will never forget one morning when an 82-year-old resident came to my office crying and told me she depended on her children for everything. As she cried she mentioned she used to be so independent, but now she feels useless without her children and she hates it. She mentioned she has not been to the mall in years and would love to go before she passes, just to remember old times when she could do those things on her own. Her children work full-time jobs so if they can't take her, she won't go. After hearing her story, I coordinated with my colleagues, gathered the funds, and now have a trip planned to the Philadelphia Mills Mall. When I told her she would be going to the mall, she cried of happiness and thanked me for listening to her.

It goes to show that small gestures really do go a long way and meant the most to our seniors!

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At Southwest Behavioral and Health Services in Phoenix, AZ, sharing the love is a team pursuit. The nonprofit submitted a group photo and asked employees from across the organization to share why they love their jobs. Their submission was the selected pick of the week during our "I Love My Job" campaign in February that highlights the positive aspects of work.

We want to know why you love your job. Send us your "I love my job" story or submission through the end of February. Our selected submission each week -- like the one from Southwest Behavioral and Health Services -- will receive a sweet treat and care package to share with coworkers.

Send us your "I love my job" story or submission

Here is why staff at SB&H love their job:

Southwest Behavioral & Health Services (SB&H) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in Phoenix, AZ, offering integrated behavioral and health services throughout Arizona. Our wellness Program for 2017 is focused on not only topics of physical health, but also subjects such as work-life balance, mindfulness and appreciation. Our first quarter theme is “Power of Appreciation” as a wellness component, and to that end, we have launched an internal campaign for different programs to submit to us why they love their job and/or team to be entered into a drawing to win a smoothie party.

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  • I love my job because of my company, peers, and superiors. All are family-oriented, strength-based, and understanding of personal circumstances. In the end, I do not feel like a number and really feel like a valued individual at my work. The nature of my job also makes me love my job. I help people get hired and sites staffed, the joy I get to experience makes me love my job in itself.
  • I love my job for the opportunities for growth in my career and as a person.
  • I love my job because my co-workers are very helpful, patient, understanding, and they are VERY FRIENDLY!
  • I’m grateful for the opportunity to work for SB&H and I also have a wonderful supervisor who is extremely knowledgeable and I’ve learned a lot from her and I am looking forward to continued growth in my position.
  • It offers so much variety….no two days are alike and I never know what challenge might come my way.
  • I love working with employees throughout the organization!
  • I love my job because I meet with different people every day. I feel fulfilled each time when I hire an applicant.
  • I love my job because it allows me to help others grow their careers and discover their passions.
  • I love the variety of my job. Every day is different and I get to interact with such a diverse group of people. It means I am always learning.
  • You learn something new every day.
  • Great opportunity to pursue my professional career and my supervisor is a great person to learn from, plus everyone in HR is very nice.
  • Why I love my job? Well, this is the first job I’ve held for more than 4 years, because I found a job that I enjoy doing and like coming in every day. Being here 7 ½ years I enjoy what I do and have learned a lot in the records department, I push myself to meet my goals and also challenge myself on new tasks when given. SB&H is a friendly agency and I have made friendly friends. A big shout out to all my co-workers and supervisor for all your experienced help at getting me where I am now. I will continue my challenges and goals until I retire from SB&H.
  • I enjoy the people and the diversity. I have been provided with many opportunities for career growth and continue to have these opportunities.
  • SB&H prides itself in living the company’s Mission – to the benefit of both the communities we serve and our valued staff. Internally, opportunities abound for growth and advancement for all staff members.
  • I love my job because I work with people who are supportive, caring, have a great sense
  • of humor, positive outlooks and have a “can do” spirit!
  • I love the opportunity to learn and grow on a daily basis.
  • I love my job because it is a tool that allows me to provide for my son.
  • I love my job because I feel I’m behind the scenes making a difference in people’s lives.
  • I love that I have creativity and diversity in my job because I have difficulty when I must do the same thing every day. I also value collaboration and have the opportunity to meet and organize events and plans with internal and external staff/agencies.
  • I love being a trainer because I get to meet all of the new hires and also see current staff that need renewal trainings because I can reconnect with them and talk about how much they have experienced and grown in their position or a new position. I love to educate people and also help individuals find different trainings and connect them to other resources to help them do their job.
  • One of the best things about training is also learning from staff. Our staff are very bright, compassionate and love to share their experiences. Training is not only teaching staff different things to help them do their jobs but I also learn from staff and I share their experiences in my future trainings.
  • I love my job because I am able to teach others as well as learn new things on a daily basis.
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Kelly-Anne Suarez helps inspire children and adults to "discover the magic of color" while working as community and media relations manager at the Crayola Experience in Easton, PA. Her submission was the selected pick of the week during our "I Love My Job" campaign in February that highlights the positive aspects of work.

We want to know why you love your job. Send us your "I love my job" story or submission through the end of February. Our selected submission each week -- like Kelly-Anne's-- will receive a sweet treat and care package to share with coworkers.

Send us your "I love my job" story or submission

Here is why Kelly-Anne loves her job:

I love my job for oh SO many reasons, but one of the biggest is this: Crayola's mission is to raise creatively alive kids. In turn, at Crayola Experience, we believe that creativity is an essential skill that can be taught and should be nurtured, but--above all--MUST be experienced.

As the communications manager, it's my job not only to inspire people to visit and "discover the magic of color" for themselves, but to make sure kids and adults alike are reminded how important creativity is in daily life. This takes MANY forms. For the last two summers, I've hit the open road with an 8-foot crayon character to surprise amazing kids all of the country with a personalized Crayola experience. And that's just one example.

Whether I'm crafting on talk shows, planning kid-driven fashion competitions, playing with TV crews in our attraction, launching new locations, or building partnerships with national non-profits, I know that I'm advancing our mission and (hopefully) making life a little more colorful for the people I meet. Who can argue with that?

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What do you love about your job? Making a difference, working with fantastic colleagues, feeling proud of the organization you work for, having great benefits, something else? Tell us in writing or send us a photo or video.

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A while back, Amanda Taub wrote a piece in the New York Times about the role of partisanship in the acceptance of fake news as fact. The key takeaway for me was that people are more likely to be accepting of fake (or even biased news) when it aligns with their own political beliefs. The more entrenched people are in identifying with a political party (regardless of the party), the more they would seem to succumb to this bias. Furthermore, they tend to view people who share their political views as being more credible (strictly due to party affiliation) than those who do not share those views.

Unfortunately, this is extremely problematic from an evidence-based decision making framework. It opens the door to a variety of flaws in our ability to think critically about arguments for and against something, and it can detract from productive decision-making processes.

For example, when considering social media and the ability to insulate oneself from uncomfortable information (i.e., information that contradicts existing belief), we create a phenomenon in which we are exposed primarily to stories, data, and other information that fits with our existing worldview. This can create an illusory truth effect wherein we believe something just because we have been exposed to it over and over.

Once we become wedded to some idea, concept, or truth, we tend to seek out only information that reinforces our beliefs (also known as confirmation bias). We tend to accept arguments in favor of our view with limited skepticism, while being more critical of opposing viewpoints, often pointing out reasons why those competing viewpoints are biased or that those who disagree with us must be uninformed or approaching the issue from an egocentric perspective. Yet, we fail to accept or even acknowledge that our own biases influence our perspective on a given situation. The result of all this is that we tend to engage in what is known as the group attribution error, in which we short-circuit critical thinking in favor of seeing the best in politicians from the party with which we identify and the worst in politicians with opposing viewpoints.

These are just some of the fundamental flaws that have made their way into modern discourse (if discourse even applies in some situations). Once we become so entrenched in one particular view, it is rather difficult to alter that view, as was pointed out by Aschwanden. This seems especially true when those views have strong emotions attached to them, as the infusion of emotion can affect judgment and reasoning (Blanchette & Richards, 2014).

This would not seem to leave us a very good predicament at the present time. We are allowing biases, logical fallacies, and emotion to replace critical thinking and evidence-based decision making. And yet, much of the general public (even the educated general public) may be unaware of this, as we tend not to recognize the biases we possess. To change the direction in which we seem to be heading, it will require a grassroots effort of those supporting more effective critical thinking and skepticism, or it will require a political movement led from those in power to truly espouse and practice less-biased, less-emotional, and less-fallacious decision making. However, there are obvious systemic barriers that will deter progress on either front, and time will tell whether we continue to move farther away from productive skepticism and closer to decision by groupthink.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/elnegro / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Every February, we host "I Love My Job" to highlight the positive aspects of work. We're receiving submissions from people who are telling us the reasons they love their job.

We're featuring the best submissions each week here, on Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages. The person or team who provides our favorite entry for the week receives some special treats to share with his or her co-workers.

Send us your "I love my job" story or submission

Here is our favorite submission from last week, sent in by Julie Guerra, human resources director for Nueces County, Texas, government.

Here is why Julie loves her job:

"I love my job at Nueces County! I enjoy working with all the employees at Nueces County, especially my own staff. The employees that work in my department are wonderful; I have such a great team. I find this job very fulfilling knowing that we are assisting people with finding new jobs and making a difference in their lives. It’s a good feeling knowing that I can help somebody with a life-changing event.

Another great part of my job is our company’s wellness program. Reaching out to our employees to make them aware of health issues is a great opportunity that my department enjoys. And, the employees appreciate it. I like making the connections for them. It’s a wonderful place to be at Nueces County!"

Thanks, Julie, for your submission. Look for a delivery soon of special treats as our appreciation for helping to spread the love.

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What do you love about your job? Making a difference, working with fantastic colleagues, feeling proud of the organization you work for, having great benefits, something else? Tell us in writing or send us a photo or video.

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A new law in France that went into effect on Jan. 1 allows workers the “right to disconnect" from after-hours work emails. The legislation addressed a problem that is not uniquely French: how to control the flow of work spilling into time away from the office, especially when smartphones let people check email on the fly and more employees work remotely. Larissa Barber, PhD, is a psychologist and assistant professor at Northern Illinois University who researches employee work-life interface with technology, among other areas. Here are her thoughts on the French law, if it could be enacted in the United States, and how employers and employees can support a "right to disconnect" regardless of any law.

1. What is your opinion about France's new email law?

From a worker rights perspective, this “right to disconnect” law is a great first step in addressing a widespread issue in the modern workplace. Many labor laws haven’t kept up with the changing nature of work. Working long hours at a physical workspace on site has been replaced with “boundaryless” work that spills over into remote workspaces, like our homes. While working remotely can have lots of other benefits for employees, it comes with its own set of challenges to managing a reasonable workload. This law requires that companies (with more than 50 employees) establish predictable “on” versus “off” time hours for their employees, which can be helpful for kicking off discussions to achieve those ends.

2. Is there a downside to this law?

There are certainly a few downsides. First, laws are only the first step. Laws can send a powerful societal message about what we value from employer-employee relationships and protect workers, but companies are ultimately responsible for creating and maintaining a healthy workplace culture. There’s a pretty consistent research pattern suggesting formal policies regarding work-life balance issues are not effective on their own. Informal practices and supportive supervisor-employee relationships are the most powerful way to address these issues. Second, research shows that employee control is critical for increasing feelings of work-life balance. If employees feel like they can’t respond when they want to—such as during hours that were initially agreed on as “off-time”—then the good intentions of the law can backfire. Lastly, the law really only appears to apply to emails. However, there are a variety of ways employees can be contacted during nonwork time, like phone or chat. This means the law is overly focused on one mode of communication rather than the broader issue of disconnecting in general. This can undermine the effectiveness of the law, as companies can choose to merely alter their communication medium instead of directly dealing with the underlying communication issue.

3. Could such a law ever happen or work here in the U.S., even at the state level?

The U.S. could adopt a similar law, but it would be challenging. The current trend in our political environment has not been supportive of worker rights in general, and these email laws in other countries have been met with skepticism in the U.S. There are also misconceptions of what these laws entail; for example, there’s an assumption that the French law is setting specific hours for companies. In fact, the law is merely requiring that companies establish predictable hours that employees need to be responsive to emails. A law about policy presence instead of content is actually a lot more flexible than people think. Moreover, research on “predictable time off” demonstrates that policy discussions around “ground rules”—when done collaboratively between work teams—are beneficial for helping people disconnect and remain productive.

4. Is legislating what happens when away from the office effective for either the employer or employees?

Regulations can be great for sending a broader societal message of valuing healthy work practices and avoiding exploitative ones. Regulations could also be useful way to get discussion started about setting ground rules for technology expectations, which that many companies may not have done without prompting. Additionally, worker rights laws can give workers more “real control” over their work. In an individualistic society like the U.S., we assume workers have complete control over whether they respond or not already, but that’s not completely true. There are real punishments for not complying with 24/7 expectations, including lack of promotion and even termination. In times of high job insecurity, workers feel they must stay connected to keep their jobs, regardless of the actual quality of their work. Thus, such laws could be effective here in the U.S. too. However, these types of laws won’t ultimately be effective if employees and employers do not see some sort of flexibility built in or long-term value to their organization. They must feel like they can periodically change the communication “ground rules” as needed in a way that respects workers, but also works for changing demands in the workplace. In sum, simply relying on a regulation to fix a multi-faceted and deep cultural issue won’t work on its own. Organizational leaders have the most power in setting the tone for healthy workplace practices.

5. Other than legislation, what can employers and employees do to keep telepressure under control?

Telepressure is driven heavily by what we call “social norms” in the work environment. That is, what are the expectations and common emailing patterns of your work team and supervisor? The typical issue is that people don’t discuss these expectations, we tend to just do what others are doing in the workplace to fit in. Having explicit discussions about expectations for “on” versus “off” times is the most effective way to help get telepressure under control. Additionally, these times may not be the same for everyone on the work team. Although some hours may overlap for all team members, some employees may need to respond only during the day while others prefer evening or other specific windows of time. These hours could also change across time for a single worker based on life circumstances (small kids at home, caring for an elderly parent). Thus, availability expectations should be periodically updated and discussed. While regulations are good for asking employers to both have these discussions and convey expectations clearly, we don’t want to undermine their effectiveness by requiring specific or inflexible hours.

Bonus Question: How do you personally (an an expert and as someone who has to balance her own work-life) manage email outside work.

I actually do very well putting my research into practice when it comes to my own email management! I feel in control of email and my work-life balance in general, but mostly because I understand it something that needs to be actively managed. I regularly convey explicit ground rules for when others can respect responses from me. I avoid telepressuring others by putting specific deadlines in my email requests so people know I don’t expect an immediate response. With my research team, I discuss how email communications are mostly distinct from actual work performance. Being overly responsive can potentially take away focus on other important tasks and reduce efficiency. The most important thing I’ve found is that once you set the rules, you need to stick to them. If you regularly break your own rules, then no one will take them seriously.

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