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Why asking your staff to answer emails out-of-hours could be bad for business

Working out of hours can impact performance in the office, says employment lawyer Alan Price. Picture: Getty Images

Working out of hours can impact performance in the office, says employment lawyer Alan Price. Picture: Getty Images

AntonioGuillem

Answering a few emails after you get home from work cannot be that bad – can it?
This week a European court awarded 7,500 euros to an Irish business executive who was required to answer out-of-hours work emails.

The practice – which sometimes saw them answering messages after midnight – meant they were working more than 48 hours a week, something which workers in the EU have to give signed permission to do by law.

So how harmful can staying connected out-of-hours be for employees – and employers?

Alan Price, employment law director at Peninsula, said: “It is becoming increasingly common for staff to check emails and take work related calls outside of paid working hours.

“Employers often see this as a sign of an employee’s commitment to their organisation, with many even coming to expect this as a prerequisite for those in senior roles.

“However, employers should understand that this action is also an example of leavism and can result in negative employee morale alongside potential tribunal claims if the time spent working exceeds current regulations.

“Business owners should work to resolve any issues that prevent employees from switching off outside of working hours.”

The Working Time Regulations 1998 stipulate that staff should not be required to work more than 48 hours a week an average, and must sign an opt-out agreement if they wish to do so.

The law also entitled workers to time away from work to protect their well-being and productivity.

Mr Price said employers would be “wise” to consider the effect which working more than 48 hours a week may have on their staff.

“Although it may initially seem beneficial that the queries are being processed despite the employee not being in the office this can actually cause more issues for a business, slowing its development and lowering profits,” he said.

“Arguably, employees not taking advantage of their rest periods risk suffering from burnout, affecting their overall performance and having a significantly negative impact on employee morale. This can potentially lead to high levels of employee turnover, something which can be very costly for a company and foster a poor reputation.

“If you are noticing that your staff are regularly making themselves available whilst out of the office, you need to ask yourself ‘why?’.

“It may be that they are concerned about the consequences of taking too much time away from their allocated workload, anxious that it will build up in their absence or fearful that the work will not get completed to the required standard.

“In these situations, it would be wise to evaluate how the current work is distributed and whether a more even, fair spread is needed. “Employees should also be encouraged to talk to their managers if they feel overworked in order for an appropriate solution to be explored. If there is too much work for current staffing levels to handle, it may well be that additional employees are required.”

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