TORONTO — Women are more likely than men to have feelings of guilt and distress if they’re contacted frequently by colleagues, supervisors and clients outside the workplace, a study suggests.
The finding comes from research by University of Toronto sociology professor Scott Schieman and colleagues, published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
They analyzed data from the Work, Stress, and Health Survey, and conducted interviews with 1,800 American adults in 2005 and second interviews with most of them again in 2007.
The researchers wanted to look at work-related contact partly because of advances in technology in recent years, including cellphones, BlackBerrys, emails and faxes.
“We took a random representative sample of workers, or tried to get it as representative as possible, and we asked them about 30 to 40 minutes worth of questions about all kinds of things related to work and family, and then we also asked a series of questions about emotions and health,” Schieman said in an interview, noting that his subjects are American because he proposed the study and applied for U.S. funding for it before arriving in Toronto in 2004.
“We found that there was an association between receiving work-related contact and guilt for women. We didn’t find that association for men. And then we also found it for distress as well.”
Distress was measured by questions relating to malaise, such as feeling tired and rundown, feeling like everything was an effort and having difficulty focusing on the task at hand.
Even if family life wasn’t affected by the work-related communication at home, many women still reported feeling guilty.
The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
“Our study provides a snapshot view into what people might think is a form of flexibility, which is being able to be contacted and accessible 24-7 through these technologies,” Schieman said.
“I think we need to step back and say, well, ’What are the consequences of that for people’s emotional and physical well-being?”’
Now, he’s doing a larger study on the same topic with about 6,000 Canadians, but it will be richer and go into more detail in some areas, including household experiences.
He observed that a lot has happened since 2005 in terms of technology, the economic meltdown, the markets and job insecurity.
“It should be interesting to see whether we find similar patterns,” he said.
As for why guilt and distress weren’t associated with work-related communications for men, Schieman said it’s not known.
“Part of what we speculate on in the study is that it may be something to do with cultural norms around work and non-work life.”
Jen Maier, founder of the website urbanmoms.ca, has a home-based office and flexibility, but her earlier career was in marketing in the corporate world and she knows about some of the challenges in maintaining work-life balance.
“I felt torn a lot of the time,” she said. There’s no guilt now, she said, if she spends time at her desk after the kids are in bed.
“I think these days because of technology, it’s both a blessing and a curse. And I think that women are contacted, and are more available, 24-7 than they used to be,” she said.
“But I think, for sure … women (who are) mothers feel more guilty than their husbands would on the exact same situation.”