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The Work-Life Issue

The Growing Burden of "Reply ASAP" Culture

Our society has changed considerably due to the advancements of technology and its influence on our everyday lives. With regards to communication, this is evermore present. For example, we have multiple devices at our disposal — such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops — which keep us connected to our emails and allow for instant messaging.

While it has made life easier and more efficient in many ways, it has also caused the blurring between work and non-work boundaries. Our technology-dependent culture has caused many individuals to be perpetually connected to the outside world, and the workplace is no different.

Due to the advancement of technology, many organizations have moved to conduct their communications on platforms like Slack. As a result, the expectations of a worker’s availability have shifted.

Not only are employees available to their workplace after working hours, but it has also even been reframed as the characteristic of a good worker. As a result, problematic behaviors have been normalized, like checking work correspondences at all hours.

While this shift certainly makes for a more productive society, this demand for workers has been linked to psychological strain and emotional exhaustion. As a result, more research has begun to consider the ramifications of “reply ASAP" culture, which begs the question: what does it mean to lose the time to think?

What Is "Reply ASAP" Culture?

While there is no formal definition, "reply ASAP" culture can be defined as the pressure workers feel to respond to their workplace correspondence. This demand is akin to the same pressures of a personal relationship. Whereby not replying as soon as possible not only causes intense feelings of guilt, worry and stress. But it can also negatively impact your position in the workplace, much like non-availability can impact a personal relationship.

This cultural expectation is maintained by the integration of work and personal life communication. For example, smartphones have allowed people to house their personal and professional lives on the same device. And as a result, the boundaries between work and life have considerably blurred. In essence, it is both the demand and expectation to always be available — no matter the time or place.

Manifestations of this cultural expectation are everywhere, from checking your emails while watching TV to responding to messages while you use the bathroom. It’s your supervisor or superior seeing you online on social media and taking the opportunity to ask you for a quick favor. Or someone following up an unread email through your Instagram DMs.

As a result, more Americans find themselves online more than ever. For example, a 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that 31% of Americans reported going online constantly. In comparison, only 21% of Americans said the same in 2015. Thus, the increase is bound to continue as our dependence on technology increases too.

Why Is This Cultural Dynamic Harmful?

Reply ASAP culture is the universal acceptance that online presence directly correlates with someone’s availability to work, and its adverse effects are starting to be noticed.

“There are a few negative effects, both mentally and physically, that can occur when employees are lacking work-life balance and become victims of ‘hustle culture’,” says Peter Pirano, LMSW, LCDC, LISAC, CEO of Burning Tree Programs.

“Mentally, many workers’ anxiety and depression can increase which could lead to social isolation. Physically, employees can experience a loss of sleep and disinterest in hobbies because they are too focused on work,” he adds.

According to Pirano, this issue may be exacerbated by American culture’s push for instant gratification — he calls this a “culture of now.” However, people pouring their work lives into their personal lives can also damage their relationships — for example, parents missing time with their kids because of their work.

“People could be sitting in a room full of their loved ones and will be more engaged in their devices because they are still answering emails and messages from work,” he says.

The lack of boundaries creates a vicious circle where employees begin to limit their social activities. This can lead them to feel isolated and unengaged, which leads to increased anxiety.

Peter Pirano, LMSW, LCDC, LISAC, CEO of Burning Tree Programs

People could be sitting in a room full of their loved ones and will be more engaged in their devices because they are still answering emails and messages from work.

— Peter Pirano, LMSW, LCDC, LISAC, CEO of Burning Tree Programs

As research shows, an employee's mental health is a significant indicator of their overall health. For example, stress can contribute to a range of illnesses, like hypertension, cardiovascular conditions, and diabetes. Furthermore, the burnout employees endure can have a knock-on effect on their ability to contribute meaningfully in the workplace. Therefore, it is imperative that people begin to re-establish their work-life boundaries.

How Can Employees Improve Their Workplace Boundaries?

The ramifications of a poor work-life balance are clear. So what can workers’ do to ensure they maintain good workplace boundaries?

  1. Employees should clearly define what they are willing to sacrifice for work: People tend to overwork themselves due to anxieties around missing workplace opportunities such as promotions and raises. Therefore, individuals must decide in advance what they want from their work. “It is key to evaluate the worth you get from your job and understand how much of the job is worth losing things for,” advises Pirano.
  2. Communicate any difficulties you are having with your supervisor: “This could include an inability to sleep, fighting with your spouse due to lack of time for the relationship, or missing key events with your children,” he says. Discussing these issues with your superior could open the conversation around accommodations and provisions. Or it could allow them to help you work on your work-life balance.
  3. Create dedicated time where you are offline: If you still struggle with separating your work from your personal or social life, dedicated offline time could be beneficial. Setting up this time in advance could help alleviate any worries and anxieties around missing something important.

Improving the Culture Starts With Employers

While workers can fight to create clear work-life boundaries, these are not fixes but coping strategies — the real change starts with employers. “The most impact comes from how a supervisor or business owner sets their expectations early on,” says Pirano.

Not only will this ensure employees are satisfied in their jobs, but it’ll also reduce any anxieties around setting realistic and health-conscious expectations. But what does this look like?

“An employer can set the precedent for work/life balance by letting their employees know they are not expected to respond immediately if a request is sent after 5:00 p.m,” he says. This could also include informing your workers that they are allowed to disconnect for various reasons. Knowing that their boundaries are supported will also benefit employees.

Nevertheless, this type of change is only possible if workers also voice their issues with the demands of their work. It’s only through open and honest communication that we can resolve the burden of reply ASAP culture.

Peter Pirano

An employer can set the precedent for work/life balance by letting their employees know they are not expected to respond immediately if a request is sent after 5:00 p.m.

— Peter Pirano

How to Discuss Reply ASAP Culture With Your Employer

If your workplace has a rule requiring you to keep your notifications on at all times, it may be best to speak directly with your boss about your concerns.

“You should lay out what you have accomplished in your role and state what you need to continue to be a high-functioning employee,” says Pirano. The conversation should be grounded as a cost-benefit analysis, saying, ‘this is what I need, to keep providing this level of work.'"

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Piszczek MM. Boundary control and controlled boundaries: Organizational expectations for technology use at the work-family interface: Boundary Control or Controlled Boundaries? J Organiz Behav. 2017;38(4):592–611. doi:10.1002/job.2153

  3. Barber LK, Santuzzi AM. Please respond ASAP: workplace telepressure and employee recovery. J Occup Health Psychol. 2015;20(2):172–189. doi:10.1037/a0038278

  4. Lee DJ, Joseph Sirgy M. Work-life balance in the digital workplace: the impact of schedule flexibility and telecommuting on work-life balance and overall life satisfaction. In: Coetzee M, ed. Thriving in Digital Workspaces: Emerging Issues for Research and Practice. Springer International Publishing; 2019:355–384. doi:10.1007/978–3–030–24463–7_18

  5. Pew Research Center. About three-in-ten U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online

  6. Rajgopal T. Mental well-being at the workplace. Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2010;14(3):63–65. doi:10.4103/0019–5278.75691

By Zuva Seven
Zuva Seven is a freelance writer, editor, and founder of An Injustice!. Follow her on Twitter here.