Out of hours work emails…a good thing?!

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If you find yourself inundated with work emails outside office hours, the title of this article may come as a surprise. For many, the days of the 9 to 5 work regime are gone and the lines between the office and home are increasingly blurred, with a negative impact on work-life balance. However, recent research by the University of Sussex has found that banning emails outside of working hours could stop people achieving their goals and cause stress. It may also be harmful to those with high levels of anxiety and neuroticism, the study found.

For those opposed to 24/7 emailing, the arguments against are fairly obvious. Stories of burn-out or mental illness caused by excessive working hours are common. There’s also a long-held belief that “switching off” and having “downtime” are conducive to a healthier work-life balance and a less stressed, more productive workforce.

For others, however, having the flexibility to work as and when it suits them is important, even if it means responding to emails at “unsociable” hours. This may be a lifestyle choice or dictated by factors such as childcare. Some may work in industries where the need to communicate with people in different parts of the world, and therefore different time zones, necessitates work activity late at night or in the early hours. There may also be people for whom opening an inbox with tens, maybe even hundreds of emails each morning is more stressful than managing their inbox throughout the day and evening so as to mitigate the above.

The answer to the debate is probably somewhere in between; what works for one person or industry will not necessarily work for another. In 2017, France went as far as legislating to allow the legal right to avoid work emails outside working hours and other governments are looking to follow suit. In the UK, however, there is concern that a blanket ban on such activity could have the opposite effect to that which is intended.

Perhaps it is for companies to take the lead on ensuring a healthy work-life balance and culture for their employee. So, rather than there being an expectation, or worse, a requirement that employees are available 24/7, perhaps each employee should be left to manage their time and work effectively in a way which suits them best. Also, if employees are checking their emails outside working hours, companies should be asking why. Is this for what may be legitimate reasons, such as those I’ve suggested above, or is it because of the employee is overworked, worried, or fearful that not checking their emails will have negative consequences for them?