A new law in France took effect on 1 January 2017, which affects businesses with more than 50 employees, giving workers a legal right to ignore work-related emails outside of their normal working hours.  With approximately 90 billion business emails sent every day and 39% of users regularly checking, sending and receiving emails outside of working hours, should the UK follow suit?

The measure is intended to tackle the so-called “always-on” work culture, which the vast majority of academics and health professionals believes contributes to workplace stress.  In a study carried out by Professors from 3 US Universities, participants reported spending an average of eight hours a week doing company-related emails after hours.  The greater the amount of time spent on after-hours work, the less successful the employees were at detaching from work resulting in poorer work-life balance, contributed to emotional exhaustion, which in turn negatively affected job performance.  The proportion of tribunal claims citing work-related stress as a contributory factor has increased significantly in recent years and although there are likely to be many causes, employers need to consider the contribution that the 24 hour working day may have on the health and well-being of their workers.

However, modern technology and hand-held digital devices can be a positive tool, creating more flexibility for employees.  For example, some people may want to work in the evening if this gives them a few hours in the afternoon to cover their caring responsibilities or to work during their commute to get on top of things.  It also allows people to work remotely, to work within virtual global teams across the world, or to share ideas with others.

What can businesses do to ensure employees benefit from the flexibility of modern technology whilst minimising the risk of increased cases of work-related stress?

While many organisations may not want to go as far as enforcing a blanket ban, senior managers should take responsibility to not encourage and limit such activity.  For example, by avoiding regularly issuing instructions to staff after the working day ends, or over the weekend, or that require an out-of-hours response.  In addition, companies could introduce initiatives that encourage employees to switch off entirely whilst on holiday.  For example, Daimler allows staff to use an out-of-office message stating that emails are being deleted while they are away whereas other organisations apply system restrictions preventing individual employees from accessing their inboxes remotely during holidays.

Whilst a legislative ‘ban’ in the UK is unlikely, employers should take a proactive stance and consider whether this is an issue for them and what they could do to get a reasonable balance.

For assistance and guidance on minimising workplace stress and improving individual and team performance contact Anita Wynne at Beststart HR on awynne@beststarthr.com or Tel: 01438 747 747.