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Should you place a ban on access to out of hours work e-mails?

New research published by the University of Sussex indicates that placing a blanket ban on access to work e-mails outside office hours could potentially be harmful to some employees’ wellbeing and counter-productive to their work-life balance. Why is this and does it mean that blanket ban policies are therefore misplaced?

The research found that policies prohibiting workers from using their work e-mail account out of hours could be difficult both for those who want to work flexibly outside of working hours to help them get their tasks completed and those with high levels of anxiety who feel the need to stay in control of their workload. Allowing work e-mail to build up in the evenings or at weekends could therefore cause those workers to have feelings of being overloaded and to suffer from stress.

Several large international businesses, including Volkswagen in Germany and Lidl in Belgium, have put in place strict policies to curb out of hours work e-mails to tackle work-related stress and promote a better work-life balance. France also has “right to disconnect” legislation in place for companies with more than 50 workers to establish hours when staff should not send or answer work e-mails. However, this new research suggests that having a blanket ban should be avoided, given that many workers want to, or feel the need to, work flexibly.

Instead of imposing a blanket ban on out of hours e-mails, if you do want to impose some restrictions it would be better for you to provide clear guidance around the use of work e-mail outside working hours, so that your workers are accessing their e-mail entirely because it suits them and their personal needs and individual work goals.

A blanket ban on out of hours work e-mails isn’t helpful for those workers who want to work flexibly or who feel the constant need to stay in control of their workload. Instead of implementing a blanket ban, provide general guidance to staff on the use of work e-mails outside their working hours, making clear that they should adopt a tailored approach to access depending on their own wellbeing needs and work goals.

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