Can you escape work emails on holiday?

The Local Germany
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Can you escape work emails on holiday?
Young, female employees find it particularly hard to switch off during their holidays. Photo: DPA

The first email in Germany was sent 30 years ago on Friday and today 62 percent of people in Germany receive at least 20 emails a day. But rules over receiving and sending emails outside of work hours in Germany are still not clear-cut.


A quarter of Germans get more than 50 emails a day, while a tenth receive more than 100 a day, according to a YouGov poll.

The constant stream of emails makes it hard to switch off, but short of returning to your Nokia 3210 and cutting yourself off from all the benefits of a smartphone, what can be done?

Jan Jurczyk, from union Verdi, said they would like to see more firms follow the example of Volkswagen and Deutsche Telekom and introduce rules around contacting workers out of office hours and during holidays.

“The very high productivity of German workers is dependent on having downtime,” he told The Local. “It is not in companies' interests for their employees to be overburdened.”

German labour law stops workers having to do any work (including replying to emails) during holidays, if the time-off officially counts as holiday, but many still do.

A study last summer showed young, female employees in particular found it tricky to switch off during their holidays.

The survey from health insurers DAK found a fifth of people aged 30 to 44 struggled to recuperate during their holiday. Half of them could not switch off from work.

Jurczyk recommended that employees get a written note from their employer, confirming they are off, to prevent any disagreements later about why they haven’t responded to emails.

Labour law also stops employees working outside of their allotted hours, but many feel duty-bound, after being given a smartphone by their company, to respond to emails out of office hours and therefore work.

“There is a grey area when you’ve been given the latest smartphone,” Jurczyk said. “Lots of people look at emails willingly which is why some big companies have banned it.”

No law stops work emails being sent and received out of office hours, but more companies are introducing guidelines to clear up this grey area.

Volkswagen introduced rules in 2011 stating emails could not be sent 30 minutes after a shift has finished.

Deutsche Telekom also has a “mobile devices policy” under which employees are not expected to be contactable during their free time. Porsche has adopted similar guidelines.  

"It's a sensible move," said Jurczyk. "We would like to see more employers do it."

Daimler's email system even has a "mail on holiday” setting, website Focus reported in April, which protects employees from checking or answering emails while on their breaks.

Germany’s Labour Ministry, meanwhile, last year banned its managers from calling and emailing staff outside of office hours unless faced with an emergency.

Labour Minister at the time, Ursula von der Leyen told the Süddeutsche Zeitung it was important for employees, who could now technically be reached anywhere, to know when they should be contactable - and when they could switch off. "They now have this clarity in black and white," she said.

What do you think? Should all companies ban emails out of office hours?


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