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Bane of after-office email

With only a day separating Thursday’s Labor Day from the weekend, many employees with available leaves have opted to skip work today (Friday) to enjoy a four-day break from work.

For parents with children on school vacation, this is a perfect time for bonding activities. Professional or business commitments can be put on hold so they can rejuvenate their family life.


That’s the ideal situation. The problem is, with the advent of the Internet, tablets and smartphones, office work has become a 24 hours a day, seven days a week affair.

Weekends, holidays and vacations, including after office hours, have ceased to be the private or “me” times they used to be. Even airplane flights have not been spared from the intrusion of privacy.


Emails and short messages can be sent and received anytime of the day or night, and anywhere in the world, as long as the sending and receiving instruments have the capability for these activities.

Well, some people in France seem to have had enough of undue encroachment of office work in the hours they’re supposed to rest and relax, or spend quality time with their loved ones.

They want to take back control of their lives after stepping out of the office or completing their assigned work hours.


Early this month, an agreement was reached in France between a federation of companies and unions of employees in the digital technology and consultancy fields that requires the employees to switch off their professional phones after office hours (usually 6 p.m.) and refrain from looking at work-related emails or documents in their gadgets.

In turn, the companies are obliged not to pressure their employees into checking their email messages after office hours, except only in exceptional circumstances.

The ban on after-office email is aimed at reducing job burnout and, most importantly, giving the employees the chance to enjoy the much vaunted “la dolce vita” or good life.


The agreement covers some 250,000 employees, including the French offices of Google, Facebook and the multinational auditing firms of Deloitte and Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC).

For Google and Facebook, both based in the United States which has a nine-hour time difference with France, this means all email from the head office should be sent to France not later than 9 a.m., Paris time.

The member firms of Deloitte’s and PwC in various parts of the world would have to observe different deadlines in sending email to their Paris-based colleagues, depending on their time zones.

Incidentally, in 2011, German automobile manufacturer Volkswagen took a similar move: It ordered its servers to stop sending email 30 minutes after the end of the work shift and to restart only 30 minutes before the employees are scheduled to report for work.


Emails and short messages (or texts) have brought down the wall that once delineated private time from office hours, or an employee’s persona as an individual with a life of his own and as a cog in the machine that puts food on his table.

The traditional work schedule, e.g., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., five days a week, has been subtly replaced by a system that, thanks to advances in technology, no longer recognize fixed working hours.

Today, work does not stop at the end of official work hours or at the office’s exit door; it follows the employee wherever he goes any time of the day or night, even during the most intimate moments of his life.

Although intrusive email may be considered primarily a “white collar” concern, especially for those engaged in consultancy work, i.e., lawyers and financial advisers, and employees whose work spans different time zones, the problem has (by default) found its way to rank-and-file employees.

Fearful of missing an important email or being left out of the decision-making loop (as it may result in job loss), some employees feel compelled to take a look at their gizmos before going to bed at night and shortly after waking up in the morning.

The same routine is reprised on weekends and on times when the employee is supposed to be on private time with his family, loved ones and friends.


No doubt, many of the readers can relate to the situation earlier described. By choice or force of circumstance, keeping in touch with the office or professional colleagues 24/7 through email or text has become the rule rather than the exception.

For obvious reasons, the company’s top brass can maintain cyberspace silence if they want to enjoy the full measure of their private time. Let the staff handle any problem that may arise while they’re tuned out.

Those who are not similarly privileged have no alternative but to put their smartphones on standby mode just in case somebody higher in the pecking order decides to call their attention (rightly or wrongly) on matters that cannot wait for the start of official working hours.

The “digital addiction” is, however, sometimes self-inflicted. Even if there is no need or there is full certainty that no intrusive email can be expected, some people simply feel naked if their smartphones are turned off.

They find psychic comfort in receiving office email, no matter how trivial or inconsequential, even during their private time. It gives them a feeling of self-importance or value to the company, never mind if it means invading their privacy.

The ego sometimes overrides common sense.

Since the French and Filipinos have the same attitude toward the good life, it is not far-fetched to think that, in due time, the ban on after-office email would catch on in our country.

(For comments, please send your email to “[email protected]”.)

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TAGS: Business, column, e-mail, Internet, raul j. palabrica, smartphones, tablets, work hours
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