Why telling employees not to check work emails at night could be good for business

Employers should pay more attention to how their employees handle work tasks outside of the office environment and set guidelines, experts have warned after the release of two separate reports.


One new survey from Harvard Business School has found that workers who stopped checking their smartphones for work-related messages after 6pm only one day a week were more likely to look forward to work-related tasks the next day, and even more likely to stay at the same company.

And new research from human resources firm Randstad has found that 51% of Australians handle private matters at work, compared to just 44% of New Zealand employees, prompting questions over how employers should help promote work/life balance to maintain productivity.

The survey also found 21% of workers are provided with a smartphone by their employer, and that 30% are expected to be made available 24/7 by their employers.

Randstad general manager of specialist recruitment, Alex Jones, says the Harvard idea of putting away the smartphone for a weeknight has merit – but says it can be extremely difficult to mandate.

“It’d be extremely hard to set regulations around what you can or cannot do. But what I think you can do is set guidelines for all of this.”

“This is a HR and wellness issue, and I think providing guidelines about how to manage that connectivity and how to get that balance are warranted.”

“It’s difficult to mandate that you can’t look at work email after a certain time, but you can certainly give that recommendation.”

The Randstad survey emphasises that the growing use of technology is blending the work and home environments, but warns it can have a detrimental effect.

“You have work impacting people’s home lives now, and you also have 51% taking personal calls at work. That’s obviously affecting the happiness and productivity of work being done.”

Jones suggests this is an employer’s problem, especially if they are instructing employees to be available 24/7. Whatever the situation, the company says, there needs to be a clear balance and understanding between the two parties about what is acceptable in and outside of the workplace.

“What is the risk to productivity here? That’s the question you need to ask, and at what point does being available 24/7, as the smartphone or BlackBerry allows you, become too much?”

Employees are becoming more distracted in the workplace too, with 30% saying they’re distracted by email and phone calls at work. However, 21% say they’re provided with a smartphone by their employer.

Jones says it becomes increasingly hard for workers to switch off, which can eat into work.

“The problem here is all about transition. When you go from work to home, are you truly present, or are you still at work? That can work the opposite way as well, eating into productivity.”

The Harvard study, which surveyed 1,400 employees of the Boston Consulting Group, found that 60% of those who were asked to take “predictable time off” were more excited to start work, and they were also more likely to stay with the company long-term.

“What caught our attention was that the more people were ‘on’, the more unpredictable their work seemed to become,” survey leader Leslie Perlow said in a statement.

“By being constantly connected to work, they seemed to be reinforcing – and worse, amplifying – the very pressures that caused them to need to be available.”

Jones says while this may not work in every organisation, it is crucial guidelines are at least put in place.

“You always need to be asking what the risk of outside work is to productivity, and if there is ever a balance.”


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