Most health science educators feel connected to the workplace 24 hours a day through smart device use, according to a new study, and a significant number say their only break from work communications is between midnight and 6 a.m.
Excessive connectivity to the workplace through smart device use, potential for emotional exhaustion and the need to set healthy boundaries are among the findings of a nationwide survey of health science educators
published in the November/December issue of Radiologic Technology
, published by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists.
More than 975 radiologic science, respiratory care, nursing and athletic training health science educators were surveyed in 2014 to investigate their level of stress and burnout as a result of excessive connectivity to the workplace via smart devices. In addition to the survey, each respondent completed an accompanying health assessment. The survey and assessment were distributed by an interdisciplinary research team from Midwestern State University in Texas.
According to survey results, 60.7% of respondents said they feel connected to their workplace 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with 18.8% reporting that they never ignore work-related communications they receive on their smart devices during non-working hours.
“As an interdisciplinary team of health science educators, we found it very surprising that our peers reported using their smart devices on a daily basis for all purposes, and their only real lull was midnight to 6 a.m.,” said James Johnston, Ph.D., R.T.(R)(CV), FASRT, a coauthor of the study and dean and professor of Midwestern State University’s College of Health Sciences & Human Services.
Although the results showed that most educators are tied to their smart devices 75% of the day, there appears to be some healthy management. Fifty-five% of survey participants indicated that they at least sometimes ignore work-related items after hours.
To gauge the health effects of device use, researchers cross-referenced their health assessment data with the national averages of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. The nationally recognized survey measures burnout within three categories: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lack of personal accomplishment.
For the Maslach inventory’s emotional exhaustion category, the higher the emotional exhaustion score, the higher the level of burnout. The health science educators scored much higher in the category than the national average. Defined as a feeling of being emotionally overextended and exhausted by one’s work, health science educators scored emotional exhaustion at 30.3 compared to 21.25 at the national average.
The inventory’s personal accomplishment scores are interpreted differently, with lower scores indicating a higher degree of burnout. In this category, health science educators appear to have a higher feeling of competence and successful achievement in their work as they scored a 45.1, well above the national average of 33.54.
The research team found that emotional exhaustion occurs when healthy boundaries are not set for smart device use for work purposes after hours. Also, they learned that a portion of the survey participants believe that health problems can be linked to smart device use in connection to work.
“Our team recommends setting firm usage boundaries for smart devices at home and work,” said Dr. Johnston. “Our research shows that it’s very easy to slip into the mode of answering work-related e-mails at all hours, and it’s not good for one’s life balance or creativity on either side of the equation.”