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To Unburden Workers, German Firms Limit E-Mail During Vacations

Handy Beach shot Source DPA
Companies such as Daimler are taking steps to keep workers off their cellphones while on vacation.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    To ease stress on employees and let them work more efficiently, German companies are no longer requiring workers to be reachable off-site via email.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Many German companies are less demanding of their workers during off-hours than U.S. or British firms.
    • Volkswagen has a policy that lets employees be unavailable by phone between certain hours and while on vacation.
    • In some companies, senior executives are setting the tone by switching off their smartphone or checking emails only once a day.
  • Audio

    Audio

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It’s August and Germans are going on vacation for most of the month. But so many workers are taking their work email with them these days, that a growing number of companies are relieving their employees of the burden of being reachable anywhere and anytime.

“Mail on Holiday” is Daimler’s new out-of-the-office assistant, which automatically deletes incoming emails during vacation periods. Some 100,000 employees in Germany will be able to use the service this summer for the first time. The goal of the program is to make sure that employees returning from vacation will “be greeted by a clean desk.” Daimler calls it “easing an emotional burden” on its employees.

Although email isn’t always the most suitable form of communication, it’s one of the most popular. This leads to a veritable flood of electronic letters that can inundate employees’ inboxes around the clock.

Many large companies have developed guidelines for employee accessibility via email, but they are often loosely worded. Deutsche Telekom has a so-called smartphone policy, under which employees are not required to read or answer emails after working hours, on weekends and while on vacation. Those who do so nonetheless are doing it voluntarily.

Bosch’s “Guideline for Family-conscious and Flexible Working Hours” states that employees are “fundamentally not expected to be available” during their free time, said a spokesman. The company has fixed procedures for delegating tasks. How work is transferred to coworkers is also clearly defined, the spokesman added.

Bosch management is setting the tone. “In 2013, there were about five cases in which I urgently had to reach one of my employees over the weekend,” says Christoph Kübel, the company’s head of human resources. “I myself was contacted just as infrequently during my free time.”

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