September 1, 2014
It seems likely that the much discussed German ban on out-of-hours emails is to be implemented. According to reports over the weekend, the German Labour Minister Andrea Nahles has agreed to the implementation of new legislation that aims to end the culture of people dealing with messages outside of their normal working hours and could lead to a total free time email ban. The opportunity to herald the new legislation came with the publication of a new report she had commissioned into mental health and work, which led her to claim that ‘there is an undeniable link between being constantly available for work and mental illness’. However the new legislation has met with a degree of scepticism, especially in an article written over the weekend by Karl-Heinz Büschemann for Germany’s largest circulation national newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
While conceding that there is an issue with the out of hours working culture, Büschemann decries the way politicians unwittingly set themselves up in competition with Germany’s comedians (and yes, they do exist) with legislation that not only distracts them from more serious issues such as the stormclouds gathering over Ukraine, but also has little or no effect because the issue of working time is already heavily regulated and the email ban is so out of step with modern working life.
Instead he argues that the Labour Minster should spend her time addressing issues such as growing job insecurity and the prevalence of temporary contracts. He does not deny that there is a problem with the way people work but that the solutions are tied to working culture and individual behaviour rather than legislation.
“More than anything else, the blurring boundaries between work and workplace demand greater discipline from employees. Just because we have a work phone or laptop with us at home, doesn’t mean we have to give the impression that we are constantly accessible because the right to free time already exists. We can turn them off. In fact, we must. That is legally acceptable, and we don’t need the broody administrations of Minister Nahles to save us from evil bosses.”