Inability to 'switch off' causes burnouts, say experts

PETALING JAYA: Employees can be burned out, stressed and ultimately less productive if they do not “switch off” from work and respond to e-mails and calls outside working hours, say experts.

Neuropsychologist Dr Nivashinie Mohan said such workers, who are “on-call” almost 24 hours a day, lose their work-life balance and end up becoming distant from their friends and families.

“Technology is a double-edged sword. It allows us to have flexibility in our work, especially with more people having flexible work hours or working from home.

“But this also means that technology often seeps into our personal lives. We are reachable at all hours and therefore expected to respond at any given time,” she said.

Dr Nivashinie said it was unfair for employees to be expected to “work” while on holiday.

“Usually when employees work, they get some form of compensation. However, if they respond to e-mails after working hours or on weekends and no compensation is given, it blurs the lines between work and life outside of work,” she said.

University Malaya Medical Centre consultant psychiatrist Dr Ahmad Hatim Sulaiman said it was up to employees to refuse if they were expected to be reachable after work hours.

“Of course it depends on the nature of your job. If you are a doctor or site engineer, you are expected to be on call. It is part of the job description.

“When you take up a job, you must know what is expected of you,” he said.

Dr Ahmad said time management was crucial in handling such jobs.

In November last year, a survey by Expedia titled the “Vacation Deprivation Survey” found that Malaysia had the world’s fourth most dedicated workforce after India, Brazil and Italy, with employees who could not “let go” of work during vacations.

It showed that almost 90% of the country’s employees worked even when they were on holiday.

The survey, based on 8,000 workers from 22 countries, also found that Malaysians spent about 40 hours a week at work but received only an average of 14 days of annual leave and that they did not use about 7% of their leave days.

In August, Germany’s employment ministry banned managers from calling or e-mailing staff before and after work hours except in the case of emergencies.

The guidelines, intended to prevent employees from burning out, stated that staff should not be penalised for switching off their mobile phones or failing to respond to messages outside work hours.

MyStarJob Network Sdn Bhd head Serm Teck Choon said technology had altered human behaviour and sometimes, it was not the employers who were to blame.

“We also see employees who obsessively look at their work e-mails or check with their bosses while on holiday and even when not necessary because they can’t let go,” he said.

He said generally, bosses did not expect their employees to be reachable 24/7 and understood the importance of work-life balance.

“We must ensure we finish our work and don’t leave any unresolved issues before we leave the office to avoid the likelihood of e-mails and calls at odd hours,” he said.