Featured Columnist in Whistler Question Newspaper ~ Jan 10, 2017: BANNING AFTER WORK EMAILS
In 2014, the Canadian Mental Health Association claimed 58 per cent of Canadians felt overloaded between their work, home and family lives. And let’s face it – the situation certainly hasn’t gotten any better since.
That feeling of overload can lead to serious health consequences. According to Statistics Canada, “employees who consider most of their days to be a bit or extremely stressful are three times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode compared to those who reported low stress.”
Technology Blurs Boundaries
The biggest culprit lies in the inability to shut down technology. Our laptops and mobile devices blur boundaries with expectations for immediate responses to work demands.
This issue was in the spotlight last week with France’s government passing the El Khomri law, giving workers the right to disconnect once their working day ends. France’s labour reform will require companies with 50 or more employees to negotiate out-of-office email guidelines with staff.
French MP Benoit Hamon purports that this law is necessary as employees may physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. Instead, they remain attached by “electronic leashes” – whether texts, messages or emails.
This is not new and in fact, some larger European companies previously took measures to ban access to technology after hours. In 2011, Volkswagen’s servers shut down the ability to send emails 30 minutes after an employee’s shift ended. And in 2013, Germany’s labour ministry banned managers from calling or emailing staff outside of work hours.
Protecting Employees from Burnout
These rules and the new law in France are designed to protect employees from burnout and are based on the belief that digital technologies have created an environment of undeclared labour that forces staff to work outside the typical workweek. Closer to home, British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act states that if you work more than 40 hours a week, you’re entitled to overtime. But it is also common perception that this Act is outdated and doesn’t keep up with today’s changing business environment.
According to a recent poll from Gallup research, over a third of full time employees in the United States check email on their own time – however, those who did were 17 per cent more likely to say they had improved lives. Interestingly, the study found that nearly 80 per cent of workers see the influx of mobile devices in their professional lives as a positive thing.
It’s a complicated paradigm of respecting an employee’s balance between work and personal lives versus something that has become societal in nature. We live in a society with eyeballs glued to devices and those devices frequently contain both work and personal information. So while it is imperative for businesses to value their employee’s off time, it is up to everyone to create their own boundaries.
More than ever before, our professional and personal worlds blend and if the statistics above are any indication, employees sometimes don’t mind. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if common sense prevailed without legislation? Employees could embrace the freedom to leave the office at 2:30 to pick up their kids from school or maybe take a mid-day ski break on the perfect day. Even if it means answering emails in the evening.
At Lighthouse Visionary Strategies, Cathy Goddard offers business and life coaching, workshops and the popular Whistler Open Forum Speaker Series. She is founder of Lighthouse Mentor Network, a mentor program nominated for Small Business BC Awards for 5 consecutive years. Learn more at www.lighthousevisionary.com