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Should We Ban After-Hours Work Emails?

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Late last month, I wrote about some of the potential downsides to teleworking, particularly when it comes to work-life balance. And as workers kick off their 2013 round of career resolutions, it’s interesting to see that some companies are making at least one resolution for their workers as well: turn off those mobile devices.

The New York Times reports that companies such as German automaker Daimler and Empower Public Relations in Chicago are adopting new policies aimed at reducing the amount of time employees spend on their electronic devices, particularly during off-duty hours.

Employees at Daimler, for example, can have incoming emails automatically deleted during vacation so they do not return to a flooded inbox, while Empower has implemented a Blackberry blackout policy where employees are required to turn off their Blackberries from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays and completely off on weekends for work-related use, with some exceptions.

A study released last spring by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that while mobile phones are considered to make workers more productive, there are potential downsides, particularly when those devices are interfering with employee sleep patterns, thus having a negative impact on productivity. Pew’s survey of 2,254 adults found that 44 percent of cellphone owners slept with their phone next to their bed, and 67 percent had experienced “phantom rings,” where they checked their phone even when it was not ringing or vibrating.

As I wrote about last month, many feds agree that teleworking often equates to working more hours and having more of an “always-on” mentality thanks to mobile devices, but most are still extremely positive about the flexible work option and believe mobility and telework have led to increased productivity.

Cindy Auten, general manager at Telework Exchange, said in August that while improved work-life balance has been touted as a benefit of telework and mobility, it can have a negative impact as employees may have a difficult time establishing work-life boundaries. “As agencies roll out [bring your own device] programs, they should proactively communicate the expectations and performance measurement policies to ensure that employees do not feel on-call all of the time,” she said.

Reporter Portrait for GovernmentExecutive.com

Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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