Technology is wonderful isn’t it? It’s hard to believe there was a time when we left the office at 5pm and, without the assistance of mobile phones, pagers or email, were forced to leave work behind entirely until we returned to the office the next day. There was no undermining sense of guilt that there was something more we could be doing, no anxiety of waiting for replies, no friends and family glaring us down at the dinner table as we not-so-subtly shoot off one last email, and then another last email.
It’s true that we were taking work home with us before the progression of technology; we took files home to read and study, composed letters and documents, and brainstormed in our studies, kitchen tables and living rooms. And yet that paper/mind-only work seems to have some inherent level of productivity that the under-the-dinner-table email does not. Rather than sitting down to complete a task for a designated amount of time, the messages, emails and phone calls are dotted throughout the evening.
Smartphones have made sure our work can follow us everywhere, and for many, it is a temptation, or rather, a pressure, that cannot be ignored. While in the short term, this may appear beneficial to managers, there is no doubt that without sufficient time to rest and recuperate, workers will inevitably burn out, and become less efficient workers.
In France, a new law is attempting to protect after-hours life by prohibiting your boss from calling and emailing you after 6pm. Workers of the computer and digital sectors must turn off their phones and computers for eleven hours, and have the right to ignore emails sent during these hours.
Germany has also recently implemented new restrictions which forbid employment ministry managers from penalizing staff for failing to answer calls or emails outside of working hours, except in emergencies. The move follows Volkswagen, BMW and Puma in an attempt to protect workers’ necessary down-time.
The Europeans seem to be heading in a good direction and it will be interesting to see who is next to follow suit. As we continue to push towards an increasingly unsustainable tipping point, with a good work-life balance almost impossible to maintain, the market-leaders taking responsible action for the health of their workers is a rare and inspiring event.