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In the last few years, some German firms such as BMW, Volkswagen and Deutsche Telekom have banned after-hours call and emails to workers – the point being to actually let people take time off in the evening, rather than effectively being half-working all the time.
Now a ban on office communications in the evening and during vacation time could even become law. German labor minister Andrea Nahles said in a Tuesday interview that the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) was consulting on how such a law could be made – what thresholds would need to be mandated, and so on. She said the first results were expected in 2015.
Earlier this month the labor minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, called for such a law. According to local reports, the smartphone age comes with real burnout risks — quite a few studies will back this up — and unions are pointing out that people are more productive in their uptime when they have proper downtime too.
In my opinion (and in Nahles’s, judging by the interview), this would be a really tough law to formulate and certainly to enforce — the German government needs to navigate a fine line between promoting better mental health and engaging in nanny-statism.
Different kinds of jobs call for different levels of availability, particularly if people have to deal with people in different time zones as part of what they do. At the same time, if you’re continually anticipating work email late into the night, that’s a problem. We all need to unwind regularly.
A lot of this should come down to employer competitiveness – a firm will be more attractive if it promises not to bother you when you have your feet up and a glass of wine by your side. But perhaps there is at least a place for a law ensuring that people have the right to avoid responding to calls and emails when they’re not supposed to be working, without the fear of being penalized.