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August 29, 2014

NYT op-ed: 24/7 workplace email is Bad Craziness. How about time-outs evenings and weekends?

In the New York Times yesterday, contributing writer Clive Thompson, also the author of "Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better”, suggests that Americans should strive to be more like our suddenly more-mellow cousins in Germany (yeah, Germany) and end the tyranny of 24/7 emails. We should have regular--yes, daily--off-periods or "time-outs" for workplace email. In America, would such a regime be wimpy, sane or something in between? At WAC/P, we like and support the idea. The Western preoccupation with constantly checking business and workplace email has become an hysteria that feeds on our employee-as-peasant mentality and increasingly has little to do with thinking and solving problems, i.e., doing work. Thompson's "radical" if sane piece begins:

This Labor Day weekend, odds are you’ll peek at your work email on your “day off” — and then feel guilty about it.

You might envy the serene workers at Daimler, the German automaker. On vacations, employees can set their corporate email to “holiday mode.” Anyone who emails them gets an auto-reply saying the employee isn’t in, and offering contact details for an alternate, on-call staff person. Then poof, the incoming email is deleted — so that employees don’t have to return to inboxes engorged with digital missives in their absence. “The idea behind it is to give people a break and let them rest,” a Daimler spokesman told Time magazine. “Then they can come back to work with a fresh spirit.”

Limiting workplace email seems radical, but it’s a trend in Germany, where Volkswagen and Deutsche Telekom have adopted policies that limit work-related email to some employees on evenings and weekends. If this can happen in precision-mad, high-productivity Germany, could it happen in the United States? Absolutely. It not only could, but it should.

White-collar cubicle dwellers complain about email for good reason. They spend 28 percent of their workweek slogging through the stuff, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. They check their messages 74 times a day, on average, according to Gloria Mark, an authority on workplace behavior and a professor at the University of California, Irvine.

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Image: Ralph Steadman

Posted by JD Hull at August 29, 2014 08:35 AM

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