Should there be a ban on out of hours emails?
This is the conversation that simply Will. Not. Die.
TL:DR: no. We shouldn’t.
For the longer version, please read on for my full list of reasons why this is a bad idea and why we need to stop talking about it. Like, yesterday.
First of all, there is some useful research that suggests bans of this kind, whilst well intentioned perhaps, can lead to unintended consequences. Such as causing more stress. Like much around wellbeing, what works for one person will not work for another. The research found that whilst some people find bans like this helpful, for others it will cause a stress response, reducing control over how they prefer to work. As one of the researchers in this study suggested, people need to be able to deal with their email in the way that suits them best.
Suggesting a ban on out of hours emails serves to reinforce the idea that all work takes place in an office, between Monday and Friday, 9-5. In fact, office dwellers make up only about half of the UK working population. Some of them are part time – when should they not get emails? Some of them also (shocked face) work flexibly. If we put in an artificial ‘out of hours’ ban – exactly what hours are we talking about – and who works them? A ban could work against flexible workers rather than support them.
A ban such as this one also completely fails to recognise that many organisations are global, and have employees working across multiple time zones. That some people also work weekends. And we can quickly see, no ban could be practical or workable.
Some people term this debate differently. Instead of being about hours and emails, a right to disconnect. This is something that many of us need a little more of right now. But disconnection is a joint responsibility. Individual and organisation. It cannot be about banning stuff and removing choice and autonomy.
We don’t need parent-child policies, we need meaningful discussions about rest and recovery. We need people managers to understand these subjects too, and who can act as good role models. We need to challenge the beliefs and attitudes that lead to presenteeism, both in person and digital. We need to build organisational cultures in which it is okay not to respond and switch off, not because a law or a policy says so but because it is the right way to live and work.
Or (radical suggestion coming uo) we could always, you know, just try and reduce the amount of email we send.
So can we please stop the conversation now?
Edit (because it is often suggested): the answer is also not using ‘delay send’ tools. Delay to when? 9am the following morning is the default. I will make the same arguments here that I make above – this just perpetuates the idea that this is when we do/should work. Not to mention the fact that if everyone does it, all we will do is create a huge flood of emails being sent at once. Hardly good for the stress levels.