When is the work ‘cut-off’?

Last week, news broke that French legislators have passed a law which gives employees the right to ignore work e-mails outside of working hours. I believe that this is great news for two reasons:

1. E-mail is outdated and inefficient anyway.

2. It is important that people are given the chance to switch off when they are not at work.


The New Law

Article 25 of the El Khomri Bill allows employees of organisations with over 50 staff members to avoid reading, responding to or acting upon digital communication which is received outside of business hours. This includes e-mails, messaging applications and collaborative platforms. The law has been introduced in an attempt to combat the effects of work-based stress and to curb the effects of being ‘switched on’ around the clock.


The Problem With E-mail

I don’t like e-mails full stop. In my opinion people use it as a way to delay decisions and push accountability on others. It also means endless ‘reply all’ chains, mysteries surrounding information they never received, the issues of attachments and the awkwardness of getting the balance between sounding friendly and professional just right.

In more recent times, the rise in mobile devices and the ability to be contacted anywhere, anytime, work-based e-mails have leaked past the end of the working day and have become a round-the-clock venture. It begins with ‘just checking’ on a project from earlier today, spreads into tying up loose ends at the weekend and eventually answering Wendy’s questions about how to get the printer to work whilst lying on a beach in Spain. Further to this, by escaping the time-constraints of business hours, e-mails have become the scape-goat for avoiding accountability – ‘lost’ e-mails are held responsible for missed deadlines and poor Paul from accounting is so lost in a team-wide thread of information that he really doesn’t know what his boss is expecting him to do this week.


The Digital Age & New Apps

The evolution of digital has opened up a wealth of communication methods which have infused the professional world with useful benefits, such as unlimited organisation apps and ways to collaborate on projects. With all of the messaging and collaboration channels available, E-mail is definitely becoming outdated and the benefits of more modern applications and software are being noticed by industry experts, who are using e-mail as their primary communication channel less and less.  For example, Trello and Slack are two of the most popular collaborative, team-based applications available. With 3 million monthly users, Trello offers a workspace designed to encourage productivity and collaboration, whilst Slack, with 1.7 million monthly users, combines all of the useful parts of instant messaging to enable smooth communication between team members. With innovation and productivity channels becoming more and more readily available, it is not hard to see how e-mail is falling behind and becoming less favourable in the eyes of professionals.


The Importance of Switching Off

With so many applications, software suites and communication channels available at the fingertips of employees, it is easy to imagine how projects and discussion can spread into everyday life – outside of working hours. Many professionals use the same devices at home as they do at work, meaning that the communication apps they are using to discuss projects are still open in an evening and during the weekends. This makes it harder for employees to switch off and disconnect from their responsibilities, which can lead to stress, work overload and ‘burnout’; a physical, mental and emotional inability to continue working in a productive manner due to overwhelming stress from the workplace environment.  The ability to switch-off and take time away from work is lauded by industry specialists – and it’s not hard to imagine why – with a French study showing that 1 in 5 Executives are at risk of ‘burning out’.


Resetting the Boundaries

In the midst of the digital age, where information is accessible at all hours, in all places, it is time to begin resetting the boundaries which have been broken by new technologies. Businesses have been taking advantages of the unrestricted access to communication channels – but the adverse effects that this is having on employees should be more than enough reason to re-establish the ground rules of courtesy and personal time. It is important that employees are able to take time away from the responsibilities of their job and spend it however they like. The ability to spend time being creative and unwinding leads to more productive employees and a more focused attitude during work hours, compared to individuals who never truly relax due to committing so much of their personal time to work-related activities.

Throughout all of the discussion surrounding digital means of communication, the good old telephone has been largely ignored – in its original form, anyway – but it could provide the answer to the ‘cut off point’ issue. Since the invention of the phone, an unwritten, unspoken rule has developed surrounding the acceptable times to call. For managers and employees, calling outside of working hours is usually reserved for emergency situations; whilst friends and family tend to keep each other’s schedules and habits in mind when deciding when it is okay to call.

Here is a great clip from one my favourite TV shows: Curb Your Enthusiasm that I feel sums up the concept of a ‘cut-off’.

Given that technology-based communication, such as e-mails can be used negatively as an excuse for poor work performance, a lack of productivity and unimpressive work-ethics, it is to be hoped that, by restricting the times during which these methods can be used, the ways in which they are used may also be affected. By concentrating the permitted usage, hopefully the work produced and productivity levels will also be condensed. In short – if employees are using their professional communication correctly during working hours, they have every right to ignore them outside of those hours. I firmly believe that the out-of-hours ban on work communication should be implemented everywhere – morally, if not legally.

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