Germany set to ban out-of-hours work emails

Emma Woollacott
woman working on a computer by...
woman working on a computer by...

As workers become ever more electronically connected, the German government has become worried about the toll on their mental health - and is considering making it illegal to email colleagues after 6pm.

The country's labour minister, Andrea Nahles, commissioned a study earlier this year which has shown a link between the 'always-on' work culture and poor mental health.

"There is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness," she told the Rheinische Post.

"We have commissioned the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to work out whether it is possible to set load thresholds. We need universal and legally binding criteria."

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How to Manage Your Work-Related Email
How to Manage Your Work-Related Email

While the full report won't be published until 2016, it is expected to lead to a new law that would ban employers from contacting their staff out of hours.

It's an idea that has been tried before. Daimler, for example, recently told its workers that they could delete any emails they received while on holiday; three years ago, Volkswagen changed its email system to prevent them being sent after hours. And in August, Germany's employment ministry banned managers from calling or emailing staff out of hours except in emergencies.

"It's in the interests of employers that workers can reliably switch off from their jobs, otherwise, in the long run, they burn out," said labour minister Ursula von der Leyen.

And, earlier this year, France passed a similar law requiring workers to turn off their smartphones and ignore work emails after 6 pm.

According to research from tech company Mozy, the average working day is now 7.00 to 7.00 as workers start dealing with emails from the moment they wake up. While it's happening all over the world, they found, the Brits are logging on for longer than most.

And these long hours have been linked to more than one death. German banking intern Moritz Erhardt was found dead last year after working until 6 am for three days in a row at the offices of Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London.

And, last July, the chief executive of Switzerland's biggest telecoms group, Swisscom, was found dead in an apparent suicide after having complained about long hours.

"The most dangerous thing that can happen is that you drop into a mode of permanent activity when you permanently check your smartphone to see if there are any new emails," he said. "It leads to you not finding any rest whatsoever."

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