This week, Volkswagen made all the major news outlets when it made a decision to improve the work-life balance of its employees. Now, union workers in Germany will not receive emails from the company during their off hours. Emails will begin 30 minutes before their shift begins and will conclude 30 minutes after the work day ends.
The decision has met with the usual praise and criticism. Some people think it is wonderful to be freed from the chain of a beeping Blackberry and the need to check emails at all hours. Others think it is useless to block emails while someone is away from the office, since that is the time you most need to have access to your emails. Either stance you take, I’m hoping this decision has a domino effect on other big businesses.
While the journalism field is a little different from other professions, because news doesn’t wait for a 9-5 job to begin, I remember holiday weekends when I was obsessively checking my emails to make sure I wasn’t missing something. Occasionally, I would check and there would be an email alerting me to a story that needed to be written and posted immediately. That’s when I went into turbo mode and worked feverishly to pull together a well written and informative piece on whatever the news happened to be. This is not an isolated incident for journalists. I watch my dad, a human resources executive, checking his smartphone during meals and at high school basketball games. We check while driving, while shopping, while working out. There’s that sensation of nakedness if we leave our smartphone at home for a day, or while running a short errand.
That need to have a Blackberry, Droid or iPhone in our hands at all times – just in case something happens – is detrimental to so many other areas in our lives. We can’t hold a real conversation over a meal, if both parties are checking their phone for that possible email. We can’t focus on the road ahead of us while driving. I’ve seen people get hit in parking lots because of smartphone usage. I have seen several people fall off the treadmill at the gym while checking emails and sending texts.
So bravo to Volkswagen for making this first and necessary step towards giving their employees a more balanced and fair life. And here’s hoping many more companies follow in their revolutionary footsteps.