I have often praised Germany for its forward-leaning laws on the environment and other areas. However, Germany is following France in a move that I consider perfectly absurd: a ban on after-hours work emails. I will confess to attaining some Chicago school economic bias against certain forms of tax and regulatory policy. However, this is one area where the market should be left to its devices, literally.
In fairness to Germany, there is research that emails are adding as much as five extra hours to the average worker’s day. However, I have seen that research in the past and I am less than convinced. It is true that emails come in at all hours. However, few require any action. Indeed, as a practicing lawyer, I now get (and send) emails at all times of the day (including some from federal courts now), including on weekends. However, these emails are often placeholders for action later. I do not mind it. Indeed, it lets me know what is coming and what will have to be addressed. When I send a late email to a litigation team, they know that I am just sending it (because I have told them so) to put it into the mailbox (rather than wait and try to remember to send the email on Monday). However, in litigation, we do on occasion have to work 24/7 to make a filing. Those periods are well known and long anticipated.
The point is that this is an area that is ill-suited for government regulation. Every business faces different challenges and realities. The market can influence how businesses operate. Companies with reputations for over-working employees will tend to have a greater attrition rate and few applicants. Some companies actively market their lifestyle choices and policies.
Germany however is considering a ban on any work emails after 6 pm. This is based on research commissioned by the German minister for Labour, Andrea Nahles, also found a relationship between workers having constant access to their emails and poor mental health.
The model for such legislation could not be worse: France. France has long been viewed as one of the least efficient or inviting countries for business. In addition to taxing its businesses out of existence, France has an array of laws that shackle businesses in firing employees, setting workplace policies and other limitations. Last year, they reportedly added a law requiring workers to turn off their smartphones after 6pm. However, the Economist did an article stating that no such law actually exists and that the story was misreported. In reality, there was an agreement for a small part of the workforce that dealt with workers who had worked extended shifts.
I am very sympathetic with motives of the German ministry if, in fact, it is moving to deal with this problem as reported. This seems a real problem, but a ban is not the solution. Indeed, this would seem a good area for the government to act as educator and work with businesses to encourage internal policies — rather than impose a single cutoff regulation on after-hour email use.