Out of hours emails – should they be banned?
By Rachael Birt, Account Manager
Emails. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. In today’s digital society, this form of communication is unavoidable – in fact, it’s estimated that over 300 billion emails were sent and received every single day in 2020.
But with one of the trade unions in the UK now calling for the government to give employees a legally binding “right to disconnect”, is the email falling out of favour? And should we put restrictions on when employees can and can’t be contacted outside work hours?
The reason behind the request
The past 18 months have seen huge numbers of people around the world suddenly working from home unexpectedly, meaning that the end of the work day – marked by when you used to leave the office – is now not so clearly defined. With no commute, many employees find themselves working later into the evening, or starting earlier in the mornings, to squeeze any extra productivity into their day.
What many businesses are also seeing is an increase in emails being sent or video calls being set up outside office hours, and employees are feeling the pressure to be seen as ‘always-on’. The call from trade union Prospect is proposing that bosses no longer “routinely” email or call outside set working hours. This isn’t a unique suggestion. France has had a law protecting the “right to disconnect” for four years now, with companies setting agreed upon hours for contact, and having to stick to them.
So what’s the right approach?
PR is a ‘round the clock’ job – but downtime is crucial too
Some jobs can be easily restricted to 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, but PR isn’t one of them. The news world never sleeps, and so clients can find themselves in a crisis at any time, day or night. And part of our job is to be there for our clients when they need us. Emergencies don’t conveniently wait until Monday morning – they happen when they happen, and we need to be ready to support our clients at short notice to ensure that they can deal with whatever comes their way.
Though this means that we tend to keep an eye on emails outside of work hours, and answer our phones when an urgent call comes through, we also know that switching off in the evenings and weekends is hugely important for everyone’s mental health. Sometimes emails pop up because a colleague or a client has had a sudden thought that they want to share while it’s fresh in their mind – and that’s okay! But it’s important to remember that it’s also more than okay for recipients to wait to respond to that email until the next working day. Otherwise, the workday simply never ends.
On balance then, do we need laws to regulate when employers, colleagues and clients can send emails? Possibly, but not necessarily, as long as there is an understanding that there is a time and a place for them. Sometimes that will be at 10pm on a Friday night, but not very often!