Is Germany Planning to Ban Work Emails After 6 P.M.?


Flickr/Kelly Schott

The advent of email greatly simplified workplace communication. It made possible increased workplace flexibility, and a plethora of different workplace arrangements for employers and employees. Internet capable smartphones have only increased this flexibility, but not everyone is happy about it.

European labor unions, in particular, have raised concerns about the time spent by employees answering work emails outside of traditional working hours. This has prompted the German government to commission a study assessing the economic and psychological cost of workplace stress, with possible legislation to follow.

From The Huffington Post:

Last month, German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles commissioned a study to assess the psychological and economic effects of work-related stress. The findings, slated to be released in 2016, are expected to generate legislation that would ban employers from contacting workers after office hours.

It is far too early to know for certain what any proposed legislation will look like, and there is considerable scepticism in Germany about the kind of blanket restrictions that have been mooted, as the The Guardian reports:

It remains controversial even in Social Democrat circles, and a number of politicians from Angela Merkel's party have voiced opposition. "What are plumbers meant to do when you've got a burst pipe after 6pm?" asked the CDU politician Michael Fuchs.

However, given that Nahles has previously spoken favorably about restrictions on workplace email contact, a blanket ban on after hours email contact is at least a possibility.

If the German government does institute such a ban, it could have potentially devastating consequences for one of Europe's few remaining economic powerhouses.

Germany will find it increasingly difficult to bail out their underperforming neighbours if their productivity is constrained by arbitrary rules mandating increasingly outdated work arrangements.

Such legislation is also unnecessary. If after hours email contact is a problem for employees, then it ought to be dealt with in negotiations between them—or their chosen union representatives—and their employers.

In fact, this is already beginning to happen, as The Guardian reports:

Some large companies, such as Daimler and Volkswagen, have already adopted rules to limit work-related stress. Last month, Daimler allowed about 100,000 workers to delete emails they received while on vacation. In 2011, Volkswagen agreed to stop its BlackBerry servers from sending emails after working hours.

Germany has managed to retain a healthy manufacturing industry in an increasingly globalized world. Banning after work email contact with employees will only burden their economy with with rigid restrictions on working arrangements. It will reduce flexibility and harm prosperity in the long run.

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  1. Server down? Well guess it better wait till Monday since we can’t email our admin. When I am asked to work jobs where I have to be on call I just say no. Plenty of people dont mind. See how easy that is.

    1. This.

      Just because there is stuff in my inbox doesn’t mean I have to open it now.

      If they want me on call 24/7, they’ll have to pay me enough to make it worthwhile.

    2. Exactly. I don’t want a job where I would need to be on call.

      So I don’t take jobs where I would need to be on call.

      So deceptively simple.

      1. For exempt and exec employees at most companies, you’re always “on call.”

        1. Execs, certainly, that’s almost by definition part of the job. I don’t know about ost exempt employees, though. “Traditional working hours” are pretty meaningless to a lot of jobs, that’s certainly true.

          1. It’s mostly a management issue. Some managers are horrible at distinguishing between emergencies (the VP called so we need to work on this tonight!) and routine requests from higher-ups. They usually burn out good employees and have a lot of turnover, and thus perform poorly. It all works out in the end.

        2. Yeah, I am not officially on call but if shit goes down over the weekend and I don’t chime in, I will hear about it on Monday.

  2. Germany is planning a lot of things.

    1. You know which other country planned… oh.

    2. Thus the wurst thing Germany has ever done.

    3. They’re only following orders.

  3. So phone calls after 18:00 are still legal? If it’s really important you call.

  4. Last month, Daimler allowed about 100,000 workers to delete emails they received while on vacation.

    I’ve heard about this before. I don’t think it’s a new thing, but maybe they expanded it. Essentially, instead of your standard Out of Office message, you get something to the effect of:

    The person you are attempting to contact is unavailable. YOUR EMAIL HAS BEEN DELETED.

    Essentially, it forces people to seek solutions elsewhere. This has arguments both ways. When I remain accessible on vacation, I increase my value.

    Which is more efficient, irritated employees who are always available or rested employees who go dark 6 weeks/year?

    1. I think it depends on the type of work. I know an in-house lawyer who does this whose job is reviewing contracts. The work doesn’t stack up while she’s on vacation–people have to go to a named backup.

    2. If is is some sort of customer support thing, or something like flye mentioned that makes a lot of sense. For a lot of jobs, it doesn’t make sense.

  5. Do they allow cell phone calls on the shitter?

  6. Maybe it is different in Europe, but a lot of jobs these days don’t revolve around “traditional working hours”. And that’s good for a lot of people and to some extent made possible by things like email.

    1. Recently, each Xmas has been a whine-party for those who have to (the HORROR!) work in stores on Xmas!
      Uh, are clerks somehow more protected than, oh, radio DJs? Medical folks? Pilots and those who work in airports?

  7. If this were done as Daimler handled it, I’d have no problem at all. As it is, a (supposedly) dis-interested third party has stuck its nose in a two-party, voluntary transaction.
    I don’t know what will end up screwed as a result, I’m just firmly convinced something will.

  8. Germany has always been big on “down time” – as recent as the late 80s you could not shop anywhere after say 6PM. Or all day Sunday.

    1. What good is that? I do most of my shopping in the off hours to avoid the crowds. 3am is prime grocery shopping time.

      1. Not here; the damn shelves aren’t stocked by then and the meat counter is closed.

      2. Not with one checkout lane open it isn’t. You don’t need a crowd to have to wait in line, just 3 other insomniacs with the same idea.

    2. At least the Germans believed in working while they were “on the clock.”

      The English on the other hand cannot “work” an eight-hour-day without a paid break for tea at least four times.

      As late as 1944 the Brits put in something like 2400 manhours building a single Spitfire while the Germans put in 1600+ manhours building their equivalent fighter.

      While “the Protestant work ethic” is strong across broad swaths of German society it is largely absent from broad swaths of the English population which relies on some kind of “noblesse oblige” or just plain feudal spirit for getting paid for a day’s work (or some approximation thereof; IOW “the world owes me a living”).

  9. Damn lazy Germans.

  10. I hear about this from friends who work in the Bundesrepublik. Apparently they have a goon who walks around the lab shortly after closing time and tells people to go home and stop working.

    A lab, as in laboratory. Science is done when it is done, not between 9 and 5.

    These people are committing intellectual suicide.

  11. Roll that beautiful bean footage. Wow.

  12. So Germany too is on the verge of a libertarian moment.

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