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Thinking of texting a co-worker after hours? Does sex matter?

For many of us, technology has blurred the boundaries between work and home. Some colleagues check their e-mail the minute they get home from the office; others sleep with a smart phone on their nightstand. (Me: I’m not saying.) But the etiquette in deciding whether to contact someone at home or after hours — by phone, e-mail, or text — about work-related matters is tricky. How well do you know her? How burning is the issue? How much will it intrude on his home life?

According to a new study in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, another factor you may want to throw into your decision-making is gender. University of Toronto researchers reported on data from a national survey of Americans and found that frequent contacts by supervisors, co-workers, and clients outside the workplace affects women more profoundly than it does men.

“Initially, we thought women were more distressed by frequent work contact because it interfered with their family responsibilities more so than men,” says lead author Paul Glavin, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at U of T. “However, this wasn’t the case. We found that women are able to juggle their work and family lives just as well as men, but they feel more guilty as a result of being contacted. This guilt seems to be at the heart of their distress.”

Importantly, this study looked at frequent (perhaps, too-frequent) contact. Also relevant but not mentioned in the study is that some forms of contact are more intrusive than others. E-mails are are much easier to ignore than phone calls, for example.