Have you ever received an email from someone in a work-related context at 8.30pm and found yourself unsurprised that they were essentially ‘working’ at a time technically outside of their required hours? It has become very commonplace for people to have access to their work emails on their smartphones, allowing them to engage with work at any time of the day.
Many employees like to feel on top of their workload and fear reading an urgent email hours after it needed to be dealt with. Others simply can’t disengage from work even after they’ve left the building. Some feel no obligation to work outside of their standard hours and wouldn’t dream of having their smartphone notify them of a work email. Whichever category you fall into, the subject of out of hours email checking has become so prominent that legislation was recently passed in France that required employers to protect the rights of their employees to switch off outside of their normal working hours. It essentially allows an employee to ignore their online work correspondence when they’re not at work to prevent burn-out, excessive unpaid overtime and exacerbating work-related stress.
All this however begs the question, who is encouraging employees to check their emails out of work so forcefully that such legislation is necessary? It’s unlikely to be stipulated in anyone’s contract that they are required to download the app that hosts their work email inbox onto their smartphone, nor is it feasible that an employee would be admonished for not responding to an email received late at night until first thing the following morning. On the other hand, in response to the newly-introduced legislation a French newspaper pointed out that employees are frequently judged on how committed they are to their job and how available they make themselves; such commitment and availability seems to be measured by responsiveness to out of hours work correspondence. Protecting employees’ right to ‘switch off’ outside of work hours ensures that those who choose not to engage with work correspondence outside of their required hours are not discriminated against in the context of performance reviews, promotions etc.
In light of the above, it’s worth discussing what is so wrong with wanting to disconnect from work correspondence once you’re finished for the day. One of the (many, and often unwarranted) criticisms of the heavily-spotlighted Millennial generation is that they don’t feel an obligation to ‘work’ outside of their required working week. They are also frequently criticised for prioritising job satisfaction over salary. In a society rife with mental health problems that are often rooted in work-related stress, is it so absurd to suggest that people should minimise the portion of their day they spend glued to a screen dealing with work queries? Is it entitlement or just self-preservation to seek a job that contributes to your happiness rather than just pays your bills?
Checking your work emails to pass the time on your commute or spending half an hour in the evening setting up your to-do list for the morning is far from a crime. Assuming that an employee isn’t committed to their job or working hard enough because they choose not to engage with work once they finish for the day is an attitude that only perpetuates the idea of someone being a ‘workaholic’ and adds even more pressure to an already strained workforce. If disconnecting from work in the evening (or morning, afternoon, whatever your ‘outside hours’ are) to spend time with your family, go to the gym or just watch television allows employees to unwind and destress, then it only adds to their productivity during their inside hours.