Should businesses ban emailing after office hours?

22 Oct 2019 | Press

Should businesses ban emailing after office hours?

By Alex Forsyth

Debate: Should we ban staff from work emails after office hours?

Laura Giffard is founder and creative strategist of Perq Studio. Ben Willmott is the head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

Is banning staff from work emails after office hours a good idea to combat the ‘always-on’ culture?

YES, says Laura Giffard, founder and creative strategist of Perq Studio. Any company that buys into the idea that emails can be answered at any time is being irresponsible and exploiting their staff’s discretionary effort. It sets a precedent, not only within the business but across a wider network. Conscientious workers who receive emails out of hours will feel the need to respond out of hours too. Nor does more time on email necessarily mean more efficiency or productivity. In fact, the opposite can be true. When I implemented “Tuesplay” – closing the agency every Tuesday – this meant an email ban on those days too. It forced us to take a constructive look at how we communicate, not just in our own team but across our network. In short, we have never been more effective. That said, businesses shouldn’t need drastic action like switching off email servers outside of hours to foster work-life balance. Simple changes like reducing email in general and primarily communicating over the phone instead should help maintain communications within business hours.

NO, says Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, the professional body for HR. Banning access to work emails out of hours is not a good idea, as it will disadvantage people who want or need to work flexibly. For example, it can be detrimental to those with children or other caring responsibilities, or with health conditions that make working remotely in their own time preferable to sticking strictly to office hours. Our research actually shows that more than half of employees say having remote access to the workplace enables them to work flexibly, and a third say it makes them feel empowered. Instead of a one-size fits all ban, our view is that employers need to provide clear guidance around the use of email, and other forms of digital communication, to ensure that if people are accessing emails out of hours they are doing so because it suits them. The only way to tackle the negative aspects of “always on” culture is to ensure that people have manageable workloads and are not feeling forced to work excessive hours or in ways that damage their work-life balance or wellbeing.

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