Does excessive after hours contact need legislation?

In a new study published by Deloitte, they identify 12 challenges facing today’s organisations and H.R. leaders. One of the greatest has been newly termed “the overwhelmed employee.” This is a direct response to employees being  forced to deal with the constant flow of messages and to cope with semi-permanent availability demanded by modern business life and after hours contact.


With a well identified connection between multi-tasking, inefficiency and stress it should be in any organisations best interests to protect the psychological well-being of their workforces.  But can organisations be relied upon to establish voluntary codes for their managers to not excessively contact their reports or colleagues outside the employee’s business hours? Do we need to see legislation protecting employee mental health with after hours contact having clearly defined maximum legal limits or even being made illegal?

Research shows that we check our mobile phones on average 150 times a day and our concentration has been reduced to seven minutes.  With Gallup research telling us that only 13% of employees are engaged, in the executive search sector we know that over two-thirds of workers are “actively passive” candidates, open to approach from people like me. Employee engagement is now a major challenge for most organisations with many, both men and women, willing to leave corporate life to “have a life”.  Those with highly marketable skill sets and top performers will move around until they find the companies which offer the best overall conditions. The negative impact on organisational effectiveness will be high.  A strong employer brand will become of increasing importance based on employment conditions and culture.

Saul is a Director in an international consulting company and already identified as being on track to become Partner. His business development commitments and targets have ratched up as a result of this. He told me that not one single meal out of a possible 15 were with his girlfriend, not even dinner. He was also leaving on Sunday to take a flight to the U.S. Not unsurprisingly he is contemplating other career options.  During our session he told me that his boss had sent him  yet another task for his already overfilled, potentially 15 hour Monday. His smart response was to ask him to prioritise.  “If I complete this new task I will need to drop one of the others. We can’t all keep going on like this. Some of my senior managers almost brag about how little time they spend with their families and then they are surprised when their kids start getting into trouble at school.


In Germany it is now illegal for public service managers to contact employees after hours by phone or email, a measure introduced by Ursula von der Leyen, the Labour Minister to protect workers mental health and to avoid burnout. The new guidelines stipulate that ministry staff should not be penalised for switching off their mobiles or failing to pick up messages out of hours. They should not be contacted at all for any task that could be effectively carried out the following  day.

The U.K. Institute of Management calls for companies to work “smarter not harder.”  In a leaflet to its 89000 members they say “that calls made to an employee at home could be construed as an invasion of privacy.”

Do you think organisations will be able to impose voluntary codes of conduct on their managers, or do you think we have reached the point where legislation is required?

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