Email Disrupting Life at Home?

Email Disrupting Life at Home? Careful What You Ask For

In France and other nations there is discussion of somehow banning email after 6pm or outside of working hours. For example, see here. Perhaps this could help provide a better work-life balance or prevent households from competing with email for the attention of their family. But this raises not only problems of implementation, but also the reverse – shall we start policing the personal use of communication and information technologies like email in the office?


Implementation would be impossible. You could get email at home or outside of work hours, but also work related Tweets, texts, messages, calls, video calls, WeChats, social media posts, and more. Email is only one avenue into the household, and declining in use relative other social media and other new media. Implementation would also be problematic by what would be a regulatory overreach, with public regulation reaching into the use of media in the households and private companies and NGOs, etc.

But the greatest threat is that this will go both ways. Companies, government departments, NGOs and others will want their employees and managers to stop using electronic media for personal reasons while at work, or during the work day, such as checking on your children, or making reservations, or getting any personal emails.

The first dissertation I supervised on corporate email was in 1980 and one of the key issues in these early days when email was beginning to be used in business instead of telegrams or faxes, was a worry that employees would use email for personal reasons that had nothing to do with work. My response then and now has always been that this should not be a worry. Personal uses of email at work are helpful for the morale and time management of people in the workplace, and – it goes both ways – email will enable employees to handle some business at home. And especially in the early days of email, personal use helped bring business people online, as then and now, many resist the use of online media for business purposes. There is a positive synergy (sorry to use that word) between the use of communication technologies at home and at work – a win-win.

Encourage and teach individuals to manage their time and self-regulate their engagement with work from home and vice versa, but don’t try to regulate something for which no one size fits all.

BBC news coverage:

3 thoughts on “Email Disrupting Life at Home?

  1. Prof. I like your perspective. However isn’t the regulation also about expectations? Is it reasonable for companies to expect employees to respond to emails at any hour ?

    • No, I agree, but this is something that is very contextual, dependent on the culture of the organization, and the expectations negotiated among the personnel. Also, it will depend on the task, such as when they are pressed to get a proposal in by a deadline. All very dependent on the situation, which makes any across the board regulatory framework counterproductive. Personally, many of my colleagues do not respond to my emails until they feel like it, but I like to write an email when I am thinking about it or working on the task – then I can forget about it until I get a reply. As I write, I am reminded about the informal expectations that evolve in an office setting, such as when people are okay to interrupt, etc. People need to work these things out in ways that balance conflicting expectations and keep communication efficient, productive, and fun as in social.

      • I think working it out for oneself as you noted is most important. Sometimes you indeed need to push the clock to get things in. I’m a bit surprised that email is the one technology that seems to be under the clock. But I guess in the corporate world email is still the communication tech. In academia we tend to take our own time most of the time.

Comments are most welcome