Should you handle work email on your smartphone?

An smartphone is displayed on September 21, 2012. An smartphone is displayed on September 21, 2012.

(MoneyWatch) For many of us, checking our work email during our personal time is by now a routine part of life. Some employers pay for their workers' phones, requiring people to be logged on practically around the clock. "It is hard to turn off when the rest of the team is on and expects you to be," says Leslie Perlow, author of "Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Change the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work." "The best way to address work email is to work together as a team to figure out what the norms will be and how you'll collectively manage expectations."

But what if your company leaves your smartphone status up to you?

On one hand, as Perlow notes, you don't want to be out of the loop if everyone else is in touch. And depending on your industry, the expectation may be that you are reachable 24-7 not only by your boss and colleagues, but also outside clients. "If a client emails you with a proposal and you do not respond to their email in a timely manner, you can bet the customer is already shopping the idea around to other people. A fast response time is an indicator that they are a priority," says Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats, a New York real estate brokerage.

You can even argue that staying connected allows you to leave the office earlier. But just because we're with our friends and families doesn't mean we're enjoying quality time with them. "Nothing is more annoying to friends and family members to sit across a table from someone who is pecking away at their smartphone and not paying attention to the people in the room," Malin says.

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Staying logged on all the time can lead to burnout, says Camille Preston, author of "Rewired: How to Work Smarter, Live Better and Be Purposefully Productive in an Overwired World." Think about it: Before your smartphone, did you daydream on a train? Talk to your seat-mate on a plane? Or just simply rest your eyes and mind while waiting for a meeting?

Those are all activities that re-charge you. Now, we're typically either working, surfing the Web or playing Words with Friends. Basically, smartphones help our minds stay busy. That can be fun and relaxing -- until it isn't. In addition to experiencing burnout, we can become dependent on this constant connection. "With every new message we receive, there is a neurochemical change that can become addicting over time. Emails offer 'newness,' which increases the dopamine, or feel-good neurochemical, in our brain," Preston says.

You can certainly set boundaries for yourself, like turning your smartphone off after dinner or checking email only once after hours. But what if you'd like to keep your work email off your personal phone altogether? If your company's not paying for your phone, that might be a choice. And if you're a diligent employee who isn't leaving loose ends undone at the end of the day, your employer might even respect your decision, Malin says.

If your request is denied, think about how important it is to you. "Some professions are notorious 24-7 jobs, while some allow you to unplug the minute you hit the elevator. It's important to find the type of career and environment that fits your personality," Malin says. If keeping your smartphone a personal space is crucial to you, it might be time to think about exploring other opportunities that don't require you to be perpetually plugged in. 

Do you have your work email on your smartphone? Please share in the comments section.

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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