Francisco Delgado, ISCTE (University)
This cross-sectional study aims to shed light on how e-mail as a source of stress will impact both burnout symptoms and work-family conflict. We hypothesized that e-mail as a source of stress would be positively associated with both burnout symptoms (H1) and work-family conflict (H2). Plus, we predicted work-family conflict to mediate the relationship between e-mail as a source of stress and burnout symptoms (H3). We have also hypothesized that segmentation preference would moderate the positive relationship between e-mail as a source of stress and work-family conflict, such that this positive relationship will be stronger for individuals who prefer high segmentation levels (H4).
Despite being one of the most used communication tools for work purposes, e-mail may lead its users to experience unwanted symptoms for their mental health. From those consequences that may arise due to e-mail use, one of them is symptoms of burnout (Camargo, 2008). Additionally, as a portable communication technology that might be used anywhere and anytime, e-mail can pressure individuals’ lives by intruding into them and blurring the boundaries between their home and work domains (Barley et al., 2011). However, to the best of our knowledge, no previous research has examined the relationship between e-mail as a source of stress and both burnout symptoms and work-family conflict. Moreover, and although some research has found a positive association between work-family conflict and job burnout (e.g., Allen et al., 2000), no studies have examined the role of work-family conflict as a mediator in the relationship between e-mail as a source of stress and burnout symptoms. Finally, despite findings that employees with a low segmentation preference experience less work-family conflict when using smartphones for work purposes (Derks et al., 2016), no studies have addressed the moderating role of segmentation preference in the relationship between e-mail as a source of stress and work-family conflict.
In this cross-sectional study participated 389 employees from a multinational company. Data was collected through an online survey. E-mail as a source of stress was measured using a reduced three-item scale adapted from Mano and Mesch (2010). Work-family conflict was measured with a three-item subscale developed by Matthews et al. (2010). Burnout symptoms were measured with a reduced four-item scale based on the Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT; Schaufeli et al., 2020). Segmentation preference was measured using a reduced three-item scale from Kreiner (2006). In terms of data analysis, we conducted a hierarchical regression analysis to test our hypotheses and confirmed them with Process Macro for SPSS.
E-mail as a source of stress was found to be positively associated with both burnout symptoms and work-family conflict, thus supporting our H1 (B = .26, p < .001) and H2 (B = .40, p < .001), respectively. Then, our results also pointed out to the existence of a partial mediation, in which work-family conflict explains the relationship between e-mail as a source of stress and burnout symptoms, thus confirming our H3. This tested regression model explained 21% of the employees’ burnout symptoms variance (p < .001). However, the results we obtained do not support H4 (B = .10, p = .057), in which was postulated that segmentation preference would moderate the relationship between e-mail as a source of stress and work-family conflict.
Given our results, it is plausible to state that when e-mail produces harmful effects on employees, they will be more likely to experience both work-family conflict and symptoms of burnout. These results are in line with previous studies suggesting a positive association between the use of communication technologies for work purposes and work-family conflict (e.g., Turel et al., 2011) and between e-mail use and job burnout (e.g., Reinke & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2014). Additionally, we found evidence that supports the role of work-family conflict as a mediator in the relationship between e-mail as a source of stress and burnout symptoms.
In terms of limitations, we have to be cautious when interpreting and generalizing our study’s results, as, for example, the respondents for all variables were always the same in this study, which may lead to self-reported bias (Podsakoff et al., 2003). Regarding practical implications, we suggest companies to help employees adopting strategies that support them coping with e-mail overload as a way of improving their psychological well-being.
Our findings provide evidence to consider that e-mail as a source of stress is likely to cause a conflict between work and family lives, which by its turn, will lead to the experience of burnout symptoms.
Regarding future directions, we firstly suggest that perceived segmentation norms should be included in a study similar to ours as a moderator. Plus, we also propose testing the moderation effect of psychological detachment in the relationship between work-family conflict and burnout symptoms. Furthermore, we suggest that the impact of work-family conflict in other psychological consequences (e.g., depression or anxiety) should be investigated.