A staggering number of Brits check emails when off sick - sound familiar?

·Yahoo Life UK contributor
·6-min read
Off work sick but still plugged in to emails from boss. (Getty Images)
A survey shows 76% of employees check their work emails from their personal when sick from work. (Getty Images)

Many of us are guilty of checking our emails as soon as we open our eyes in the morning – even if it is 3am. And let's not even 'fess up to times we've almost dropped our mobile down the toilet...

But a new survey reveals a more serious concern, and that’s how our use of personal devices is blurring the boundaries between work and life and is detrimental to our mental wellbeing.

Research has found that three quarters of us check work emails when off sick from work. And even worse – 76% reach for their phones to check in on what’s happening in their absence while they are actually attending an appointment at the doctors or dentists.

Read more: Spending one hour less a day on your phone makes you happier and less anxious

Surely that’s the time to check in on the latest lifestyle news on Yahoo not your messages on Slack?

Employees struggle to not check their emails on their phones even when off sick. (Getty Images)
Do you know where the 'off' button is on your phone – and working life? (Getty Images)

The survey of 2,000 UK employees by comparison site iCompario shows just how hard we find it to ‘switch off’ during time off.

It found that 3.5 million UK workers agreed they ‘feel very pressured’ to always be ‘on’ outside of the hours they were actually paid for.

And then when we do go on holiday, it takes an average of 5.7 days to truly switch off – which isn’t great with typical holidays for Brits lasting just 8.7 day on average.

A woman looks depressed and sad while using her smartphone at home. (Getty Images)
Being 'always on' can have a negative impact on mental well-being. (Getty Images)

This can take a toll on our mental health says psychologist, Dr Alison McClymont.

"Checking the phone for work emails at all hours can be a sign of overwhelm or stress – the feeling of missing something or not being on top of something can force people to check work emails at hours they wouldn’t be happy to be in the office,"says Alison.

"Ask yourself – would I go in to an office at this hour? If no – why are you 'working' on your phone?"

The need to ‘switch off’ and benefit from a proper break from work has never been more essential.

Read more: Gen Z smartphone addiction can boost compulsive buying – but businesses can help them kick the shopping habit

There’s now a rallying cry for some form of ‘right to switch off’ laws.

Two thirds of workers in the new survey said they would back such an initiative. The UK could follow in the footsteps of France which introduced legislation in 2017 to ban employers from expecting their workers to engage in communications, such as emails outside of working hours.

A woman takes a nap and a break from using her mobile phone. (Getty Images)
It's time to set yourself free from your device as part of self-care. (Getty Images)

Of course, this is something many companies are becoming aware of and taking seriously by introducing initiatives such as 'Zoom-free Fridays'.

But until some initiative happens at your workplace, psychologist Dr Alison McClymont has these super helpful tips.

How to stop checking in on work when you are clocked off

Use your computer for email

So many of us claim to “need” the phone to check or send work emails. But if this behaviour is curtailed and email can only be sent or read when on a computer – make a note of how much less you pick the phone up. This boundary forces us to be more conscious when picking up the phone, and asking: Is this urgent? If so then I need to dedicate time and space to sitting down and reading/sending this.

Set yourself a mental spreadsheet!

Add up all the hours you spent doing work on the phone outside of your normal office hours – then calculate how much your hourly rate would be. If this number surprises, alarms or even depresses you then this is a sure sign you are doing far more than you feel compensated for, outside of work.

Keep your 'hourly rate' at a number that feels fair, by limiting the amount of time you spend doing work outside of the office. Think of it like this: if you wouldn’t be happy to go in to the office to deal with this right now, why would you deal with this 'virtually'. Be your own gate keeper by setting limits around what you are paid for and what you are not!

Ask yourself: “Would I pull out my laptop now?”

The danger of the smartphone is that it removes all social etiquette boundaries. How many of us for example would pull out a laptop during an appointment with a doctor? Probably not many. The discretion of the phone is one of its biggest appeals but also it’s insidiousness – it’s so easy to subtly use a phone in places we wouldn’t use other things such as a laptop. Ask yourself: would I pull out my laptop here? If no, don’t pull out your phone!

Read more: Why it's OK to take a sick day - and experts recommend two

Agree contact hours with your boss

Employers are now aware that employees are always available, and some can take advantage of that. Combat this by agreeing upfront with your boss set 'contact hours' in the same way you do with office hours. Don’t think of this as being 'not a team player' or slacking, this is a great example of setting professional boundaries and is actually a very common practice in senior executives.

It is also a great practice to note these contact hours on your email signature so that other employees and clients know when they can expect a response from you.

Don’t get swallowed in to the idea of 'the more I am available, the better I appear'

This is actually counterproductive, an employee who isn’t demonstrating the ability to be assertive or setting boundaries, actually shows someone who is struggling rather than someone who is flourishing.

Dr Alison McClymont is a leading psychotherapist www.dralisonmcclymont.com

Watch: Mobile phone inventor tells tech addicts to 'get a life'

Which ‘always on’ phone use are you guilty of?

When UK workers admit to checking work emails on personal devices:

1. Evenings – 17%

2. Early mornings before work – 11%

3. Over the weekend – 10%

4. When attending appointments such as the dentist/doctors – 10%

5. Days off a home – 10%

Read more: A major trial of a four-day week has begun – what are the pros and cons?

6. During lunch breaks/allocated breaks from work – 9%

7. Over the Christmas break/during other religious festivals – 9%

8. When on holiday – 8%

9. When my children/those I care for are unwell – 8%

10. When I’m Sick – 7%