Switching off doesn’t suit everyone

New study finds that banning email outside office hours isn’t the silver bullet some think it is when it comes to helping employees relax.


Banning employees from answering emails in the evening sounds like the hallmark of an enlightened employer.

In fact it could be the bane of some workers lives. New research has found that a one size fits all approach is not the optimum if you want employees to switch off.

Some workers actually prefer being able to deal with messages outside office hours because it suits their life better.

University of Sussex research found that while blanket bans could help some workers achieve certain goals, they could impede other employees’ progress towards their own targets.

Control was a key issue for those with high levels of anxiety and neuroticism, for instance.

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Best intentions

Dr Emma Russell, a psychologist and senior lecturer in management at the University of Sussex Business School, led the research.

She said: “Despite the best intentions of a solution designed to optimise well-being such as instructing all employees to switch off their emails outside of work hours to avoid being stressed, this policy would be unlikely to be welcomed by employees who prioritise work performance goals and who would prefer to attend to work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed.

“People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload. When people do this, these actions can become relatively habitual, which is more efficient for their work practices.”

The paper found that people tend to have one of four goals in mind when they are dealing with work email – to show concern to others, to achieve their work effectively, to preserve their well-being or to have control over their work.

The study, published in the Computers in Human Behaviour journal, also details a comprehensive list of 72 actions that employees regularly perform to manage their work emails.

Right to disconnect

Several companies are restricting email usage, with Volkswagen an early adopter. Daimler also introduced a policy that switches off employee access to emails during holidays. Lidl bosses in Belgium banned all internal email traffic between 6pm and 7am to help staff clear their minds and enjoy their time off.

A 2017 French law requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. New York City discussed proposals to become the first city in the United States to grant employees the “right to disconnect” after work earlier this year.

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