Having worked for different American companies for several years, I am not surprised that the executives are supposed to be in contact with the office at all times. Europeans think differently, and regulations there about working hours are strict. In the US, “salaried” personnel are usually not compensated for overtime or unused vacation days. In Europe, companies are required to pay overtime (usually at 150% of the base salary). Workers, other than top managers and company owners, can’t waive their vacation time, nor can they get paid for not using it.
Now companies in Europe are facing lawsuits -- usually after an unexpected layoff -- by employees who were required to check email and do work-related tasks overnight or during weekends or vacations. Some corporations, such as Volkswagen, are taking steps such as blocking e-mail delivery after business hours. “Under the arrangement,” the BBC reported, “servers stop routing emails 30 minutes after the end of employees’ shifts, and then start again 30 minutes before they return to work.”
In many countries, companies could be expected to compensate executives for the time they spend answering email or performing other work-related tasks after working hours or during vacation. Violators could face fines.
With devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets at their disposal, it is not unusual for executives to check email anywhere, anytime. Email also distracts workers during their personal time, since sometimes they are asked to respond to requests immediately. You can’t leave work behind anymore, and what fellow blogger Birgit Nazarian called the leash of electronic devices is extremely powerful.
I remember being asked 10 years ago why I did not respond to an “urgent” email sent to me at 10:00 p.m. from Texas (seven hours behind) about a shipping question involving a customer in Italy. I had my computer off, and I didn’t have a smartphone at the time. But the company managers somehow expected me to respond immediately, and they were annoyed that my “negligence” delayed a shipment by 24 hours.
According to the second annual Mobile Messaging Study conducted by Osterman Research and commissioned by Neverfail, 79 percent of respondents said they take a work-related device with them on vacation. “Mobile messaging has become crucial to businesses and employees alike, but constant access to email makes it difficult for some workers to unwind,” said Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research. “Mobile access to email is certainly a critical aspect of how we do business now, but it is important to remember that there is a time and place for everything.”
Staying connected 24/7 is not only an enormous effort for the executive, but also a burden for the enterprise. Efficiency is measured by performance and results, not the amount of time spent “at work.” Exhausted executives who can’t unwind during evenings and weekends will not be sharp, and that will affect how they do their work. Many people accomplish more working part time (just four or five hours per day) than others do putting in 10-12 hours per day. It is very difficult to stay focused at the end of a long day at work, and it surely doesn’t help to take more work home for the evening.
Do you feel pressured to answer email at all hours? Is your company aware of your needs? Tell us about it.