Counselor Commentary: Lass Den Quatsch!

After-Hours E-mails

Dave VagnoniAt the risk of offending some of our European friends, let’s just come right out and say it: the Germans have it all wrong – at least when it comes to after-hours e-mails. Companies like Puma, Volkswagen and BMW – plus more recently, Germany’s employment ministry – have essentially banned managers from e-mailing or calling employees outside of the normal workday. The practice is meant to reduce stress, prevent burnout and apparently provide more time for joyriding on the autobahns.

Predictably, the culture evangelists love the idea, quoting studies that show powering down can actually lead to more creativity. Unfortunately, back here on Earth, business is a 24/7 creature and cutting out communication is a rotten idea. This isn’t to say bosses need to get in the habit of calling staff at 1:00 a.m., but customers have needs and orders get screwed up and social media gaffes happen.

Millennial employees – who will make up 70% of the U.S. workforce in 10 years – enjoy the flexibility of a staggered schedule. When they’re working from home, for example, they might take a 3:00 p.m. break from the laptop only to spend a late night cranking out a blog. This is a trade-off for not being chained to a chair. The view from here is that Millennials and younger staffers are perfectly fine e-mailing back and forth with a manager at night. They prefer immediacy and like solving issues in real-time, rather than spending two hours sorting through 100 e-mails the next morning or sitting in a what-went-wrong meeting.

For many, by the way, a cool phone is a status symbol and people already go everywhere with them – whether it’s their couch, their bathroom or their kid’s soccer practice. Answering an on-the-go e-mail is not an inconvenience. There’s also this thing called voicemail – which lets employees find out what a manager wants before they call back. In a nutshell, this idea that banning communication after-hours somehow gives employees more freedom is bogus – it’s actually a sweet-scented Band-Aid for covering up a likely so-so office culture.

Now here’s a caveat to all this: Bosses shouldn’t be calling employees who are on vacation when there’s no emergency. If you’re the boss, and you think this is OK, then you might need a visit from Mike Tyson. Not the friendly Mike who now does stand-up comedy, but the guy who knocked out Michael Spinks in 90 seconds. We’re not advocating combination punches, just some nose-to-nose intimidation. Until Mike arrives, you vacation violators, please go put on a dunce cap, sit in the corner for an hour or two and then watch a couple of episodes of The Bachelorette – that’s a fair penance.