Technology has transformed the working day and with almost everyone having a smartphone there’s a feeling that we are always contactable. In workplaces where we don’t work the traditional 9 to 5, such as the creative industries, it’s even more likely that you’ll send or receive emails in the evening, weekends or even while on holiday!
The boundaries of when we are at work or on personal time have become increasing blurred and many employees feel anxious. The temptation or expectation to check work emails means work frequently impinges on personal time. On the other hand, the same changes in technology have allowed many people to work more flexibly and balance work and home life more effectively.
France has decided to act on the problem and a recent deal between employers’ federations and unions aims to protect people working in the digital and consultancy sectors form work emails outside of office hours.
Should we be doing something similar? I don’t think a ban on emails is really the answer and could even hurt some workers who want to work more flexibly – keeping in touch on the train or leaving early to look after children.
What’s really needed is clarity.
It’s all about the working culture and we need to set clear guidance for staff about what is and isn’t expected. For example...
• Encouraging people to speak to each other more and rely less on emails is a good starting point
• Highlighting key practical points such as not using the CC field all the time and not “CC”ing someone’s manager as a means of coercion
• Clearly stating that staff should avoid emailing out of normal working hours, unless it’s urgent, and that staff are not expected to reply to messages out of normal working time
These could be a much needed start in changing the email culture and help us to communicate with each other in a more effective and less stressful way.
Steve is Head of HR for the Barbican Centre and Guildhall School of Music & Drama and has almost 25 years’ experience of working in HR. The Barbican is Europe's largest multi-arts venue and The Guildhall School of Music & Drama is one of the world's leading conservatoires and drama schools. He was Head of HR for Shelter for 10 years and prior to this worked at the National Theatre as HR Manager