A few days ago, the Washington Post ran a story about a D.C. consulting firm that is asking employees to resist reading and responding to email during off-hours. The firm is attempting to help employees create a divide between work and home time by discouraging the use of work email on evenings and weekends. According to the article, this move marks a trend that has spread to 1 in 4 companies, in at least an informal way.
A combination of factors, including reduced staffing as a result of the recession and the ubiquity and relative affordability of smartphones has made quantitative increases in the productivity index of the American worker but the result is that employees are less happy and are finding it harder to feel like they have any sense of a work-life balance.
With grumbling employees and the continued resistance of a lot of companies to make measurable increases in staffing or salaries, managers must look to other avenues to keep their employees satisfied. A no-after-hours email policy doesn’t cost a company anything upfront and doesn’t require managers to make noticeable changes in their employees’ workloads so it makes sense to at least experiment with the concept.
I was interested by the fact that it is a consulting firm making the bold move. On the one hand, a consulting firm may be in an ideal position to back their move up with quantitative data but, on the other hand, consulting is a necessarily client-driven business. Client-driven businesses, particularly high cost industries, like consulting and law firms tend to be among the most plugged-in simply because there is the expectation that, for the amount clients are paying, employees will be at their beck and call.
At the same time, lawyers and consultants charge their clients based on hourly rates, usually calculated in 6 minute increments. By forcing people to do their work in a more focused office setting, clients are likely going to get more for their money as opposed to paying for the 2/10ths of an hour their lawyers spent shooting them a quick email while watching their children’s soccer games.
The other side of the coin, of course, is that in an email-driven industry, it can feel like you need to constantly stay on top of your inbox to keep it from getting completely out of control. I know people who receive literally hundreds of emails every day so disconnecting for the weekend would likely mean spending hours on Monday morning combing through the backlog. In that case, I’m not sure such a policy is doing the employee any favors as he will likely have to stay late at the office to catch up as a result.
What do you think?
Would a policy to discourage after-hours email work in your organization?
Do you think it would increase your efficiency or make you feel like you spend more time playing catch-up?