On March 22nd, Council member for the 37th District of the New York City Council Rafael Espinal introduced a bill that would make it unlawful for private employers in the city of New York to require employees to check and respond to email and other electronic communications during non-work hours. It doesn't prohibit employers from contacting employees outside of their working hours, but rather says the employee should have the right not to respond to communications outside of working hours.
The proposed legislation, affecting employers with more than 10 employees, would also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who would report violations of this law. The law describes a variety of exemptions - for federal and state employees, jobs that require people to be on call, etc.
This article seeking reader input in the New York Times generated a lot of thoughtful responses. Many of the comments express support for the spirit of the proposed law, but expressed skepticism that it would change employer or employee behavior. France passed a similar law at the beginning of 2017, with a similar mixed bag of sentiments being expressed at the time.
In 2016, we conducted research to assess the potential impact of changes that were then being proposed to overtime pay eligibility. This legislation was struck down in late 2017, but not before a lot of analysis had been done by pundits and organizations about how this change would impact workers who'd be making the shift from non-exempt to exempt status. One concern was that many would have to continue to work more than 40 hours per week, but without the benefit of overtime pay.
In our research, we found that 81% of US workers reported that they conducted work outside of their standard work hours. Checking and / or sending work email was cited by 55% of our respondents as a big reason they were working outside of normal hours.
Other reasons they cited included:
Sixty-three percent of our respondents said they'd work off the clock even if it was against company policy. Does this mean that for most people a "normal work week" isn't even feasible? Perhaps not. In this same research, 70% of our respondents had some suggestions for how their employers could make it possible for them to complete their work within a 40 hour workweek:
The fate of the proposed NYC legislation is still to be determined. Whether it's enacted or not, it's still in the best interest of managers anywhere to work with their employees to establish reasonable boundaries between work time and all of their other obligations.
Few employees would want to give up the flexibility of being able to get things done outside of normal work hours. Most, however, don't want "always on" to be their default state of being.
One of our board members, Steven T. Hunt, recently experienced a week without email. I asked him to reflect on what he learned. His guest blog follows below:
On April 23rd, the CEO of SuccessFactors, the company where I work, sent out an e-mail instructing everyone in the company to restrict use of e-mail to 2 hours per day for one week. We were to focus on calling people and reestablishing a personal connection that he was concerned was getting lost due to an over-reliance on e-mail communication.
Putting aside the irony of receiving an e-mail to stop using e-mail, I was intrigued by this move to ensure we do not lose the “personal touch” that makes SuccessFactors such a great place to work. So when Joyce Maroney of the Workforce Institute asked if I would reflect on the experience of living a week without e-mail, I quickly agreed. So what did I learn from a week without e-mail?
What I most gained from a week without e-mail is the importance of being aware of how much (or how little) attention we give to our efforts to communicate with other. When Alexander Bell showed President Rutherford Hayes an early telephone in 1876, he responded by saying, "that's an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?" This same quote could be applied to e-mail, texting, IMing or any other communication medium if taken in the wrong context. Different communication mediums lend themselves to different situations. The danger is over-relying on the medium that we find most convenient and comfortable and not paying enough attention to the others. In other words, pay enough attention to your e-mail to realize when it is time to stop typing and pick up the phone. And when the person answers your call, stop typing your e-mails and give the speaker your full attention.
Has your company implemented email-free days or otherwise attempted to curb overuse of email?
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