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Using Mobile Technology for Work Linked to Higher Stress

Using Mobile Technology for Work Linked to Higher Stress

by Dan Witters and Diana Liu

This article is part of a weeklong series analyzing how mobile technology is affecting politics, business, and well-being.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. workers who email for work and who spend more hours working remotely outside of normal working hours are more likely to experience a substantial amount of stress on any given day than workers who do not exhibit these behaviors. Nearly half of workers who "frequently" email for work outside of normal working hours report experiencing stress "a lot of the day yesterday," compared with the 36% experiencing stress who never email for work.

Daily Stress by Email Usage and Remote Working Habits

Time spent working remotely outside of working hours aligns similarly, with 47% of those who report working remotely at least seven hours per week having a lot of stress the previous day compared with 37% experiencing stress who reported no remote work time.

These data were collected from March 24 through April 10, 2014, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for a special Gallup study exploring the effects of mobile technology on politics, business, and well-being in the United States. Gallup interviewed 4,475 working U.S. adults, and the findings hold true after controlling for age, gender, income, education, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and children in household.

Workers Who Use Mobile Technology Rate Their Lives Better

In seeming contrast to the relationship between the use of mobile technology for work and its relationship to elevated daily stress, workers who email or work remotely outside of normal working hours also rate their lives better than their counterparts who do not. As with stress, frequency of emailing outside of work and hours spent working remotely are closely linked to the percentage of respondents who are "thriving."

Life Evaluation %Thriving by Email Usage and Remote Work Habits

Gallup classifies Americans as "thriving" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Those who rate their present life a 7 or higher and their life in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving.

Employers' Expectations Drive Mobile Technology Use

Regardless of well-being related outcomes such as daily stress and life evaluations, employers' expectations play a clear role in employees' mobile technology use. Sixty-two percent of workers who have employers that expect work-related mobile use say they use email frequently outside of working hours, compared with 23% of those whose employers have no such expectations. Just 5% of workers say they never email outside of work even in the existence of such employer expectations, compared with 30% who never email in the absence of those employer expectations. A similar pattern exists for remote work.

Mobile Tech Use Among Workers By Employer Expectations


The unusual dichotomy in key well-being outcomes -- daily stress and life satisfaction -- and work-related mobile technology use provides evidence that such behaviors can both positively and negatively influence employees' well-being. Even after controlling for all key demographics, workers who leverage mobile technology more often outside of work are much more likely to be stressed on any given day, while simultaneously being more likely to rate their lives better.

It is possible that by emailing or working remotely outside of normal hours, workers associate such behaviors with greater professional success and accomplishment, thus elevating how they think about and evaluate their lives more generally. At the same time, the elevated levels of stress associated with these behaviors may fall into what some refer to as "productive stress." For some workers this type of stress may be a desirable emotional state that is associated with greater urgency and more productive work days. Job type may also be a factor in these results; more personally rewarding occupations for many people also may be the type that demand more mobile technology use and that typically come with elevated stress levels.

Read a related article at the Gallup Business Journal.

Survey Methods

Results for this study are based on telephone interviews conducted March 24-April 10, 2014, as a part of the Gallup Daily tracking survey and the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index with a random sample of 4,475 working adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1.8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the employer expectations sub-groups, the margin of sampling error is ±2.5 to 3.0 percentage points.

Workers were asked, "How often do you normally check your work email outside of normal working hours -- frequently, occasionally, rarely, or never?" and "Now, I'd like you to think about any time you may spend doing your job remotely using a computer or other electronic device, such as a smartphone or tablet. In a typical seven-day week, about how many total hours, if any, do you spend working remotely?"

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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