Under a legally binding labour agreement, thousands of French employees now have the right not to check their work emails or receive work-based phone calls after 6pm. Should the UK follow suit?
YES Despite the demands of a competitive marketplace, business owners have a duty of care to their employees, and that extends to ensuring they have adequate downtime. There are statutory rest obligations in place to reinforce this downtime. Surely a more relaxed workforce will lead to a more productive one. A move to ban after-hours calls and email, or at least restricting them to an out-of-hours service rostered to an individual, would send the message that the workforce’s wellbeing matters.
There’s a risk inherent in failing to address the issue. Smartphones are commonly used for both personal and work-related communications. This increases the possibility of mistakes being made or messages being sent inappropriately – perhaps even under the influence of alcohol.
These external factors, which do not arise in the office, could adversely affect judgement and accuracy, leading to business-critical errors. The popularity of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) schemes further blurs the lines between the professional and personal, but ultimate responsibility sits with the employer.
Some employers block access to work email during holidays, enabling staff to make the most of their time off. A ban would formalise this process, potentially bringing benefits to both staff wellbeing and workplace productivity and introducing more clarity to the relationship between employee and employer.
Paula Whelan is head of employment at law firm Shakespeares
NO Employers and employees alike rely on after-hours calls and email because it gives them flexibility. This is particularly useful to those with young children or care responsibilities, allowing them to maintain a healthy balance.
Removing that flexibility can cause added stress, conflicting timetables and a breakdown of communications. Allowing workers to continue after hours can help them to manage workloads. This helps to ease unfinished business from earlier in the day, removing an end-of-week pile-up of work and stress.
With advances in global communications, the business world now operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and being able to instantly respond to opportunities in today’s fast-paced environment is essential to maintaining a competitive edge.
In addition, restricted working hours could stifle a firm’s productivity. An inevitable domino effect could lead to missed deadlines, fewer hours billed and a demotivated workforce, suppressing a company’s potential to expand.
As any successful entrepreneur will tell you, the ability to grow a firm depends on the hard work that its employees are willing and able to put in. Restricting business hours will consequently limit the amount of work completed on any given day and inevitably cause delays across the business. For many firms, especially SMEs, this could result in a reduction in profits and potentially the loss of jobs.
Sheraz Akram is a director at law firm Douglas-Jones Mercer Solicitors