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out their underperforming neighbours if their productivity is constrained by arbitrary rules mandating increasingly outdated work arrangements.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.