The internet and improvements in mobile technologies including smartphones have made work increasingly portable and accessible. This means that employees find it easy and often seductive to work during non-contractual hours. Much has been said in popular press about how employees appear to be “hooked” on modern technologies and being unable to “switch off” from work. Some employers have started to react to this “always on” culture by implementing measures to protect their employees, for instance by switching off email servers outside of office hours. France has gone a step further by changing their labour legislation to stipulate that French organisations with more than 50 employees have to explicitly clarify when availability is required and when not. But what is the scientific evidence base for such measures? Are they likely to be successful?

To ensure that any answers to these questions are based on evidence rather than gut feeling and popular press, we conducted a systematic review of existing research led by the University of Surrey in collaboration with Birkbeck, University of London and the University of Exeter. Through a rigorous screening process we identified 56 relevant studies which address the use of technology during non-work time.

Our review identifies a number of factors which contribute to employees choosing to remain “always on” using their technologies. Many employees feel pressure from their organisation, managers and colleagues to be constantly available and to engage in work during non-work time, in particular when expectations are vague. A personal desire to prove dedication and “go the extra mile” is another reason why employees were working more than what is contractually required from them. This can lead to a negative spiral where such compliance with expectations becomes the norm and lead to additional out-of-hours working. For instance, if an employee has previously been responsive to calls and emails during non-work time, colleagues might assume that they are fine with being contacted during these times.

On the other hand, our systematic review also shows that increased access to technology and working outside of office hours is actually preferred by some employees, who benefit from greater flexibility and control over their workload, leading to increases in self-reported efficiency and performance. Employees appreciate the benefits of being able to monitor continuously the information flow and stay on top of their work. Such contradicting motives underlying work-related technology use during non-work time indicate that regimented approaches to when employees should and should not be working do not work for everyone. Employers’ “one size fits all” approaches to deal with this matter might take a step in the right direction to ensure a good work-life balance for their employees, but they might also restrict beneficial flexibility offered by modern technologies.

We recommend that employers give individual employees control over their working patterns and clarify expectations while appreciating and aiming to understand their individual needs wherever possible. However, employees also need to take responsibility for their working behaviour, as it is ultimately up to them if the phone stays switched on. Measures to support employees in a sustainable engagement in modern technologies could include training of managers, work teams and individual employees, as well as working towards a supportive organisational culture which favours their employees’ health and work-life balance over immediate responses.

The discussed systematic review entitled “Voluntary Work-related Technology Use during Non-work Time: A Narrative Synthesis of Empirical Research and Research Agenda” is published in the International Journal of Management Reviews and is freely accessible (


Svenja Schlachter, MSc; School of Psychology, University of Surrey; [email protected]

Dr. Almuth McDowall, Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London; [email protected]

Professor Ilke Inceoglu, PhD; University of Exeter Business School, University of Exeter; [email protected]