Should you quit emailing outside office hours?

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It’s already pretty enticing to be an employee in France – the nation where workers enjoy 30 days of annual leave and all the croissants they can handle. But now they also have the ‘right to disconnect’ law, which makes it illegal to send work-related email outside office hours. Anyone who feels the expectation to contribute to an ‘always-on’ work culture might think this law would be met with jubilation, but not everyone’s happy about it. In fact, some workers have participated in demonstrations to express their frustration.

Isn’t switching off a good thing?

According to Dr Amanda Allisey, senior lecturer at Deakin Business School, there are many advantages to closing our inboxes after hours. She suggests that France’s new law is a ‘symbolic action that says they’re committed to reducing stress’. But Dr Allisey points out that while allowing employees to clearly separate their professional lives from their personal lives can be a positive move, this ‘doesn’t necessarily address the underlying issues’. It’s no longer practical for the entire workforce to walk away from their commitments when the clock strikes five, especially for those who need flexible hours to support families or deal with businesses in other time zones.

Is there a practical solution?

A number of economic factors contribute to people around the globe working harder and longer than ever before. The solution, she suggests, is giving people more flexibility, not less. ‘Where there is demand people should have control over the way they work. Putting limitations on when people can send emails is ok in the generic sense, but if it encroaches on people’s control it can have an adverse effect.’ The best companies ensure that their staff can work on their terms. It has become a way to attract and retain top talent.

Dr Allisey suggests that it isn’t so much about setting clearer email times, but looking at an organisation’s primary, secondary and tertiary needs. The primary need is to reduce or remove stress. The secondary need is to give people the tools to manage stress and the tertiary need involves bringing anyone who’s experienced workplace stress back to a state of wellbeing, she explains. Rather than pinning the blame on email, Dr Allisey suggests that we need to look at the way we work holistically. ‘It does depend on the nature of that person’s work but implementing flexible working hours has many benefits for employees and the community as a whole,’ she says.

'Where there is demand people should have control over the way they work. Putting limitations on when people can send emails is ok in the generic sense, but if it encroaches on people’s control it can have an adverse effect.'

Dr Amanda Allisey,
Deakin University

How will we work in the future?

How and when we use email may soon be of little consequence. Perhaps we’ll work less, but more efficiently, for example, a recent study showed that workers over the age of 40 were more productive when they worked a three-day week. Working remotely on your terms may also become the norm. Start-ups are leading this charge, many operating with 100 per cent remote structures. Dr Allisey believes ‘we’re going to reach a point where the way we work is fundamentally changed’. New challenges won’t be managing email – establishing how companies create and maintain culture, connection and engagement will become a much higher priority.

Sending work-related emails after hours should be made illegal.

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Dr Amanda Allisey
Dr Amanda Allisey

Senior lecturer and researcher, Deakin University
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