Employees are more connected than ever when it comes to accessing work systems and emails remotely. While advances in technology mean that employees and employers alike can benefit from flexible working arrangements, it also means that it has become increasingly hard for employees to ‘clock out’ at the end of the day. Improved accessibility can therefore be both a blessing and a burden. Employers should be mindful of the impact that being connected beyond the 9 – 5 may have on members of staff and how this may in turn effect the overall productivity of the team and the business.
A report by the Future Work Centre, based in London, found that two of the most stressful habits employees could foster were leaving emails on all day, and checking emails outside working hours – namely early in the morning and late at night. Answering correspondence outside of working hours can lead to clients and customers developing unrealistic expectations of the service that they should receive. The danger is that the bar for an appropriate response time is raised ever higher. Constant engagement with work emails and the associated stress on employees will have a big impact on the productivity of a workforce. Britain is now the second least productive economy in the G7, behind Japan with the most productive being America, Germany and France.
The French government has taken a pro-active approach to increasing the productivity of their nation’s workers by using legislation to achieve a more desirable work/life balance. Back in the year 2000 the working week was reduced from 39 hours per week to 35. Then, on the 1st of January 2017 the “Right to Disconnect” came into force. The law obliges companies with more than 50 workers to draw up a charter of good conduct which must set out the hours between which employees are obligated to send and receive work emails, and the hours in which the same is prohibited. The law has been heralded as an innovative solution for reducing the associated risks of stress and burnout, however it is difficult to tell if it will in fact improve the work-life balance of French workers.
While no legislation is in place in the UK, one idea posed to tackle the issue is to implement a ‘Healthy Email Policy’ in the workplace. The policy would be in place to regulate out of hours use of business email – specifically how often and when it is used. This may include restricting access to emails after a certain time, or sending out of office emails confirming no action will be taken until the following working day. German carmaker Porsche have gone one step further by implementing a workplace policy whereby emails received outside the hours of 7pm and 6am will be automatically returned to sender. The policy aims to reduce unpaid working time and to minimise stress.
Realistically, there is not ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, every business is different and any regulation should be considered on a case by case basis. It would benefit employers to be mindful of the impact constant work communications are having on their staff and to clarify the business’ expectations in terms of out of hours use. This, coupled with senior staff leading by example is likely to be sufficient enough and the implementation of restrictive policy (which itself could also impact on productivity) would be unnecessary. Checking your emails at night is not in and of itself a bad thing, so long as it is by genuine choice and that it fits around the other obligations of everyday life.