German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles has floated the idea of "anti-stress regulation" in which companies would take steps to reduce workplace tension. Chief among these measures would be a ban on employers contacting employees after hours, by phone or email.
Nahles even commissioned Germany's Federal Institute for Health and Safety at Work last year to come up with a report on the feasibility of a possible law to protect workers from stress caused by smartphones and constant contact with their bosses.
The report could generate legislation that would ban employers from contacting workers after office hours. But the report is only expected to be released next year, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Nahles' boss, has already discouraged the idea of a contact after-hours ban.
So for now the idea remains just that — only an idea.
But it was an idea heard around the world. And as workers in the US continue to struggle with their increasingly muddled work and personal lives, smartphones at their sides and visions of email dancing in their heads, we wondered … is it such a crazy idea, after all?
Should work related email stay at work? Or. put another way, would Germany's proposed no-contact after hours plan really work?
Larry Gurreri, founder and president of Sosemo
As an expert in search marketing, social media and app promotion, Gurreri recognized an industry-wide gap between traditional marketing and its latest innovations. In 2012, he founded Sosemo, a digital agency, to offer brands services and expertise in areas where their traditional agencies-of-record seemed to have little depth. He said he has focused his 15-year career on effective team building, content development, search engine optimization and systems design. Tweet to Larry Gurreri.
As the founder of a startup, I’ve spent more nights and weekends reading and responding to emails than I would like to admit. Furthermore, sometimes I feel the need to unplug and spend more time with family and friends, without having a backlog of emails pile up in my inbox. That said, I try to be considerate of others when it comes to late night and weekend emailing. Therefore, I can appreciate Germany’s view on limiting work-related emails. On the other hand, is it really the government’s right to do so?
Recently, I was having coffee with a friend who works long hours in new-business development, and we were discussing work-life balance. She said that a work-life balance is based on the premise that you’re not living while you’re working; however, she very much considers herself to be living while working, so there is no need for a traditional work-life balance. Clearly, she loves her job and doesn’t see working long hours as a sacrifice. Does a government really have the right to tell her otherwise?"
Tesla Martinez, director, International New Business Development for Focus Brands International
Martinez is responsible for leading international new business development efforts of full Quick Service and Quick Casual Restaurant portfolio of brands including Cinnabon®, Auntie Anne's, Carvel, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s, and McAlister’s Deli worldwide. She has extensive experience in hospitality and consumer foodservice across multiple brands, with emphasis on the international development and expansion. She has published dozens of articles in the fields of international foodservice strategy, innovation, planning, leadership, diversity, community and global communications. Tweet to Tesla Martinez.
As a global executive with partners around the world, including Germany, communicating across time-zones is critical to the success of our business. It is noble for Germany to promote work/life balance. However, this is a private decision best made by an individual.
Not allowing workers to access work related email during off hours puts Germany at a disadvantage. It cuts the nation off from many parts of the world and competing businesses. Germany must stay "dialed-in" to remain in the game.
Germany may want to alternatively consider a position where employees to do not have to "respond" to work related email during off hours. This sets a tone for a work/life balance culture.
Jared Staver, founder of the Staver Law Group in Chicago
Staver said he understands the value of hard work, noting that he worked his way through Iowa State University as well as John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He founded Staver Law Group to be a client-driven law practice specializing in personal injury matters. An experienced litigator, he said he has recovered tens of millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts for his clients. Contact Jared Staver on LinkedIn.
Germany's proposed law on off-hour work email not only has a good chance of coming to fruition, but it's also something that I think could eventually happen here in the US. Lawyers across the country have already seen dozens of cases of employees suing because corporations have overstepped their boundaries. And let's be clear: Today's technology makes it incredibly easy to do so. Never before have workers been so connected — so attached — to work life. It has literally become a 24/7 deal. Unfortunately, there is some gray area as to whether or not this is legal.
US employees enjoy basic employment rights. Most major corporations already have policies in place that prohibit employees on vacation or sick leave from being contacted ... and with good reason. The US consistently ranks as one of the lowest in paid vacation time offered when compared with countries of similar economic status. Employees are suffering from burnout. It's a very real, tangible issue, especially with mobile phones, tablets and laptops forcing you to be "on-call" all the time. So why do many major corporations in the U.S. have no-contact policies? They know they run a legal risk by contacting an employee taking one of his or her already too-few days off.
I think Germany has it right. I also think U.S. businesses know that, which is why many have implemented their own policies. I suspect that a law like Germany's might eventually be on the docket here in the United States, where employer-related sickness, strain and injury are already high.
Does it make Germany any less competitive? I'd argue that it actually makes them more competitive. Studies have consistently shown that well-rested and rejuvenated workers are more productive and efficient with their time.
Title image by Asa Aarons Smith/all rights reserved.