The consulting firm’s push for no after-hours e-mail is part of a growing effort by some employers to rebuild the boundaries between work and home that have crumbled amid the do-more-with-less ethos of the economic downturn.
In recent years, one in four companies have created similar rules on e-mail, both formal and informal, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Firms trying out these policies include Volkswagen, some divisions of PricewaterhouseCoopers and shipping company PBD Worldwide.
For the vast majority of companies and federal offices, the muddying of work and personal time has had financial advantages. Corporations and agencies, unable to hire, are more productive than ever thanks in part to work-issued smartphones, tablets and other mobile technology, economists say.
And that presents one of the great conundrums of our recessionary era: E-mail has helped companies eke out more from each worker. But the perpetually plugged work culture is also making us feel fried.
“There is no question e-mail is an important tool, but it’s just gone overboard and encroached in our lives in a way where employees were feeling like it was harder and harder to achieve a good balance,” said Robert Musslewhite, chief executive of the Advisory Board, a health and education research and software-
Official numbers show just one in 10 people brings work home, according to a Labor Department report in 2010. But economists say that figure is wildly conservative because it counts only those who are clocking in those hours for extra pay.
More often, employees work evenings and weekends beyond their normal hours and do not record that time with their employers, labor advocacy groups say. And that’s made work bleed into just about every vacant space of time — from checking BlackBerrys and iPhones at school drop-offs, on the way home from happy hour and just after the alarm clock rings, they say.
“Problems with work-life balance have become much worse, especially as the economy has taken a downturn,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, the legal codirector of the National Employment Law Project. “Fewer workers doing jobs more used to do and are getting squeezed to do more work.”
In official government terms, all that extra work has contributed to what’s known as the productivity index, which rose 3.1 percent in 2010, 2.6 percent in 2011 and is set to increase again this year. Yet the number of hours recorded by employees is fairly flat during those years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In some cases, the discrepancy has created more than just workplace grumbling. Two years ago, a Chicago police officer sued the city for back overtime spent tapping away at his BlackBerry.