Banning Work Emails from Home: The Emergence of Out-of-Office Work Restrictions
By Katie Davies, Senior Director, Radius
The red glow of a new email beckoning from the nightstand. . . . For those of us who used the BlackBerry in the early 2000s, the memory might evoke nostalgia. The iPhone has displaced the BlackBerry, but the intrusion of work into every nook of life has only intensified. In response, some workers, employers, unions and governments are pushing back.
250,000 French consultants and technology workers covered by the SYNTEC collective bargaining agreement are now receiving a reprieve from the constant demand of being accessible. In an agreement announced between unions and employers, covered workers are now guaranteed 11 consecutive hours of uninterrupted time off — that is, time in which they can not only be out of the office but also free from the demands of work devices. Employers will be responsible for allowing employees to disconnect and for developing a means by which they can disconnect. It is important to note that the agreement does not preclude all communications outside of working hours, but it does require employees have the ability to disconnect from work devices during the rest period.
Companies that have already implemented similar policies have accomplished enforcement in a number of ways, including shutting down email servers between certain hours and ceasing the forwarding of emails to workers’ phones after their workday has ended. Under the agreement, exceptions will be permitted under “exceptional circumstances.”
Our readers might be tempted to dismiss the agreement as typical French profligacy. They may be interested to know that such restrictions are, if not old-hat in Germany, at least not new. In 2013, the German government banned managers in the employment ministry from contacting staff outside of work hours. Private industry has also implemented similar policies; the likes of Volkswagen, BMW and Puma have enacted policies and procedures to safeguard workers’ time off.
It goes without saying that employers in affected countries should follow developments closely and ensure compliance with any new regulations. It’s also advisable to consider the impact on productivity of the “always on” culture. Hard-charging leadership that demands the most of employees and refuses to compromise can be a recipe both for company success and employee engagement. Unfortunately, it can also wear employees down, leading to low morale and high turnover.
Restricting out-of-office work is something of an unusual regulatory area, as it creates protections primarily for professionals as opposed to blue-collar workers. Those accustomed to the United States’ work culture, in which professionals are generally exempt from overtime and other worker protections, might find it downright strange. And it is unlikely that such regulations will spread to the US, though I would not be surprised if many American companies begin to set limits of their own. In the last few years, investment banks have sought to tame their notoriously long hours, technology companies have offered generous maternity and paternity policies, and, across industries, a spotlight has been shone on the impact of email on workers’ personal lives.
Restrictions on remote work are a double-edged sword. The very technology that enables work to disrupt life has also freed workers from the need to be physically at their desk in order to do their jobs. Flexible hours and telecommuting are now commonplace. Emailing at night might be a small price to pay in exchange for greater flexibility when it comes to caring for family, pursuing passions, and achieving a true work-life balance.