Banning e-mails outside of work – helpful or harmful?

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There are obvious rewards to switching-off after a shift. Employees who leave their work at the office front-door are arguably less likely to suffer from stress, emotional burnout and sleep problems, than they would if their work iPhone was routinely at hand. Similarly, being free of replying to colleagues and clients in the evening allows us to spend more time with friends and family, and to focus on our passions and hobbies.

It’s also no secret that offering TLC to our mental and physical health, outside of our daily grind, increases well-being and productivity at work. According to the Mental Health Foundation, work-related stress costs the UK economy 10.4 million working days per year – and that’s without considering the human cost.

Prominent businesses who have taken action to improve employee well-being include:

  • Volkswagen who set its servers so that emails could only be sent to employees’ phones from 30 minutes before the working day begins, to 30 minutes after it ends (and not at all during weekends)
  • Lidl who banned all internal email traffic between 6pm and 7am in Belgium
  • Daimler who implemented a policy that prevents employees from accessing work e-mails during holidays.

It’s clearly a no-brainer, right? Apparently not.

As the BBC reported, a recent study by the University of Sussex found that a ban on out-of-hours e-mails could be counterproductive, and have a damaging effect on employees (despite the employer’s best intentions). It found that a ban could:

  • stop people achieving work goals
  • lead to more stress, and
  • be harmful to those with high levels of anxiety and neuroticism.

The argument is that individuals should be at liberty to check and respond to messages whenever they want or can.

Naturally, different businesses require different practices, and there’s no one-size-fits all solution – some industries, for example, wouldn’t function properly without communication outside of normal contracted hours. Equally, as highlighted by the study, human personalities are diverse – some may only want to focus on their goals and workloads at work, whereas others want a 24/7 freedom to do so.

A happy-medium for many employers is to encourage work-life balance among their workforce, rather than impose an absolute requirement of it. Instead of forcing a blanket-ban, business could instead promote flexible working – for example, by allowing individuals to work flexible hours or to work remotely. Alternatively, bosses could follow the example of local brand agency Cre8ion, who allow staff to take off every other Friday to “do sport, go surfing or read a book all day“.

Whichever stance an employer chooses, it should always have clear policies and procedures in place so that employees know exactly where they stand – and when to switch off.

For more information, please get in touch with Gethin Bennett (