First France, now Germany: governments considering the prohibition of employers sending employees emails outside of formal working hours. While there are ostensibly positive reasons for doing so, this could have serious unintended consequences.
The pattern that many employees follow when it comes to work is already some form of flexible working arrangement. Parents especially may ensure they leave the workplace exactly on time so they can collect their kids from school and spend some quality time with them over dinner, before putting them to bed.
They then open their laptops or smartphones once again and catch up with work and communications arising since 5pm, so the following morning doesn’t consist of an avalanche of seemingly urgent (and now overdue) requests.
If a government (or an employer) decides that emails can’t be sent after formal working hours, they are inadvertently restricting the flexibility that some many employees with caring responsibilities enjoy. Even if all German employees are under the same restrictions, their colleagues and clients in other jurisdictions are not – we work in a global economy, after all. ~Messages from these colleagues and clients would go unanswered (not in itself a disaster), but leave the employees with more email to plough through the following working.
Work doesn’t stop
The reality is, work doesn’t stop while we’re out of the office. And some employees find it useful to dip in and out of email to keep things moving along. The German union campaigning in support of this legislation is quite right: pressuring employees to remain contactable is a major stressor and negatively impacts employees’ wellbeing.
At the same time, there is a middle ground where employees have the freedom – not the obligation – to stay in touch in the evening, thus reducing their perceived stress and facilitating a healthy integration between work and home. In the matter of work scheduling and flexibility, one size definitely doesn’t fit all.
Even though this legislation is well-intentioned, it could have the opposite effect on some of the most hard-pressed employees. So regulations that restrict working arrangements need serious consideration before implementation – to avoid the potential unintended consequences described above.
Do you enjoy this kind of flexible working arrangement? Do you use some evening time to catch up on emails from colleagues and clients? How would you be impacted by this kind of legislation? Let us know in the comments!
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by email, you might be interested in learning more about our Proactive and Productive workshop.