According to the current guidelines of government, it is easier than ever that you work remotely during Christmas. 

But a new report warns of the costly physical and mental effects of letting work creep into your schedule over the Christmas holiday.

Researchers at the University of South Australia surveyed 2,200 academics and professional staff this year across 40 Australian universities. 

They found that checking your work emails over Christmas could lead to burnout, mental distress and poor physical health – and can even affect family relationships.  

Will you check your emails over Christmas? Surveying more than 2200 academics and professional staff across 40 Australian universities, researchers found that employees who responded to digital work communications out of hours were more likely to suffer from burnout, psychological distress and poor physical health (stock image)

Are you going to check your email over Christmas? Research by more than 2200 Australian academics and professionals found that digital communication workers who respond to work emails outside normal working hours are more susceptible to burnout, psychological distress, poor physical and mental health.


A University of South Australia study published in June 2021 found poor management increases risk of staff depression by 300 per cent.

Because most employers overlook mental health, men are more likely to feel depressed. 

Amy Zadow, lead author of the article, stated that workplace mental illness can be traced back in part to bad management. She also mentioned poor priorities and values. These then flow through to job requirements and low resource levels.

“Evidence suggests that employers who fail to recognize or reward their employees’ hard work, make unreasonable demands of workers and don’t allow them to be independent are putting their staff at greater risk for depression,” she stated.    

Learn more Staff who are not well managed have a 30% higher chance of developing depression  

Dr Amy Zadow is a University of South Australia psychologist.

‘But being available to work both day and night limits the opportunity for people to recover – doing things such as exercise and catching up with friends and family – and when there is no recovery period you can start to burn out.’  

Out of the 2,200 survey respondents, 26 per cent felt that they had to respond to work-related texts, calls and emails from supervisors during their leisure time.

An additional 57% reported having sent work-related emails to colleagues during the night. 

Just half of respondents reported receiving work-related calls, texts and emails on weekends from coworkers. 

36% of respondents said that it is a standard practice in their organization to immediately respond to any digital communication. 

Survey results showed that people who had to reply to weekend calls from coworkers on weekends experienced higher psychological distress (56% compared with 42%).

Also, they had more emotional exhaustion (61%) than 42% (42%), and less physical heat (28% as compared with 10%).

‘Our research shows that high levels of out-of-hours work digital communication can have a significant impact on your physical and mental well-being, affecting work-family relationships, causing psychological distress and poor physical health,’ said Dr Zadow. 

“Conversely, those who held their boundaries within the workplace were less stressed and under pressure.

Checking work emails over Christmas could lead to burnout, mental distress and poor physical health - and can even affect family relationships

 Checking work emails over Christmas could lead to burnout, mental distress and poor physical health – and can even affect family relationships

UniSA’s Kurt Lushington agrees that employers must discourage work from being done after hours.  

He stated that the starting point is to measure work demand in order for an organization to reduce risk. 

“Once they have done this, they are able to develop protective measures that prevent workplace norms from being continued or developed.”

“Everyone should be able to take a break at the end of work.”

UniSA released similar research in the spring based on responses to surveys from June through November 2020.

The team discovered that employees who were expected to respond to work-related messages by their supervisors had higher stress levels (70.4 percent) than those who didn’t (45.2%) 

Additionally, they were more emotional exhausted (63.5% vs. 35.2%) and had reported back pain and headaches (22.1%) compared with 11.5 percent. 

Dr Zadow was writing for The Conversation at that time: “The personal and sociological implications of blurred borders between home and workplace are grave.” 

‘When employees are answering calls or responding to emails at home, this affects their recovery from work – both mentally and physically.’ 

According to research by the World Health Organisation (ILO) and International Labour Organisation, long hours can increase your risk for a stroke or heart disease.

Dr Zadow stated that he could focus his attention on the problem at hand and limit the amount of connectivity outside of the work day.

‘[But]The problem we have with our out-of-hours email and messaging is really a reflection on larger social issues such as productivity pressures, job insecurity, and shrinking resources.


Research by Microsoft in 2021 has found that homework reduces creativity and communication.

Researchers at the tech giant analyzed data from over 61,000 employees from December 2019, before lockdown, up to June 2020. 

Workers who work from home found that they were less able to communicate effectively and had to have fewer conversations in real time. 

This made it more difficult for employees from different departments to access and share information. This could impact a company’s ‘productivity and innovation’. 

On the other hand, working from home meant employees were spending fewer hours in meetings – often criticised as overlong and a waste of time.  

This analysis used anonymized data to describe the email, instant messaging, calls, meetings, and work hours of the vast majority of Microsoft employees in the United States. 

Microsoft revealed in March that it was giving its employees the opportunity to return to its offices after more than a year of shielding from Covid-19.

Going forward, the tech giant will promote a ‘hybrid’ model where employees can choose what’s best for them, according to its CEO, Satya Nadella. 

Read more: Microsoft study says working from home stifles creativity and teamwork