Volkswagen silences work e-mail after hours


Volkswagen agreed to stop sending employee e-mails to its BlackBerry servers outside of some German workers’ shifts, with a 30-minute buffer on either side. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)
December 23, 2011

The thrill of getting a work-issued mobile phone is often quickly eclipsed by its constant reminders that you’ve still — always — got work to do.

But some companies are trying to help its employees keep their home and work lives separate, and this week Volkswagen joined in. The automaker has agreed to stop sending employee e-mails to its BlackBerry servers outside of some German workers’ shifts, with a 30-minute buffer on either side, the BBC reported Friday. Employees can still make calls on their devices (and the rules aren’t in place for senior management), but now have a reprieve from off-hours beeps and buzzes.

The report notes other companies that have done the same, including the maker of Persil washing powder, which has declared an e-mail “amnesty” for its workers between Christmas and New Year’s. The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor recently wrote that the French company Atos has banned internal e-mail altogether.

In 2008, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that employees with company phones often worked more than 50 hours a week, with 62 percent saying that having the gadgets triggered demands that they work more hours; 38 percent said that the demands increased “a lot.” And cellphone use has only increased since then.

The average American works about 8.6 hours a day, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and time-use analysis shows that about one-10th of Americans are working outside normal work hours. Around 17 percent of employed Americans are working between 5 and 6 a.m., for example, and 12 percent are working between 10 and 11 p.m. While the labor data don’t mention the impact that work-issued devices have on this extra work time, those percentages outside of normal work hours have been steadily rising in recent years.

A complete ban on work e-mails may not be the solution for everyone, the report said. For example, work e-mails may wind up being rerouted to personal e-mail addresses, blurring the line between work and personal lives even further. But the policies do stand as evidence that businesses are starting to recognize the impact of an always-connected job.

“The issue of employees using BlackBerrys, computers and other devices out of working time is a growing one that needs to be addressed as it can be a source of stress,” Trades Union Congress secretary general Brendan Barber told the BBC. But, he added, “ [by] working in partnership with their union, Volkswagen’s policy will have the support of all their employees. Where employers simply introduce policies on their own, however well-meaning they may be, they are unlikely to be successful.”

Related stories:

Company ban on e-mail gives employees a break, and maybe a different type of headache

D.C. officials say they use personal e-mail accounts for official business

The bane of BCCs and other e-mail pet peeves

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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