Communication Curfew: Would it Work for Us?
I’m sure it hasn’t escaped you that France, the rebel of Europe, has implemented a new legislation preventing employers from sending emails to staff outside of their contracted 35 hour working week. If you haven’t, you can catch up on it here.
Many media jumped the gun and assumed that the legislation meant “no emailing outside of 9-5pm.” This misassumption then sparked a debate in other regions, primarily about whether a communication curfew could — or should — work here in the UK.
A Better Work/ Life Balance?
Make no bones about it — working hours in the UK are longer than ever. The unstable local and global economy means that everyone is trying to do more with less. And in the age of BYOD and telecommuting, it’s almost too easy to stay connected to work, even in the evenings and over weekends, in order to get everything done. I’m sure there are many of you reading this who can remember recently heading home on a Friday night, only to flip open your laptop on the kitchen table over the weekend so you could meet that urgent Monday morning deadline. At times like these, imposing a post-workday communications curfew can seem like good way to ring-fence that all important work/ life balance.
But, upon closer consideration, I don’t think that this particular kind of email restriction would achieve all that much.
The Impractical Reality
Whilst my boss might be banned from contacting me out of working hours, a big, looming deadline means there’s nothing to stop me from taking my work home. Just because I can’t communicate about it externally, or be asked to do anything else once I’m home, doesn’t mean I’m not going to work on my projects. And in today’s global, collaborative economy, it would just be downright impractical to impose a comms curfew. Whilst my line manager is based here in the UK, I work for an American company with an international workforce and client base. That means that there’s always someone I’m working with online. As my official working day here in the UK ends, my San Francisco management team’s is just beginning. It makes sense to have a weekly call at 6pm GMT so we can all go through things together. Fundamentally, it just wouldn’t be practical to ban communications outside of the UK’s 9-5pm, particularly when we’re trying to encourage international trade and economic growth.
Having said that, I don’t think organisations should actively encourage their employees to constantly go above and beyond their legal working hours. It actually reduces productivity, rather than increasing it. So what are the alternatives? Flexible working hours are one way to ensure that international business, collaboration, and communication is fostered, without running staff into the ground. The onus is also on the individual to manage their own working time as efficiently as possible and then to switch off — literally and metaphorically — in the evenings, over weekends, and when on holiday.
If you regularly find yourself working around the clock? You need to reassess how you’re managing your work load; and, your employer definitely should support this, because a rejuvenated employee is generally a much more productive one.