Should Answering Emails After Hours be Illegal?

Study finds boundless workplace expectations leads to stress, anxiety



Wireless internet emancipated us from the doldrums of office space.


If there’s Wi-Fi, an “office” is now simply wherever you are: a coffeehouse, an airport terminal or within the cozy walls of your home. While the choice to work anywhere led to a new age of workplace freedom, along with it came the unfortunate ability of always being available.


The workday is long and stressful enough in and of itself. However, thanks to the advent of email and instant message technology, those workday hours don’t seem to be so structured at all anymore or even defined. In a world where everyone needs everything as fast as possible (Hello Amazon, looking at you and your crazed 2-Day shipping, pal — but also, not complaining…) we find ourselves working longer hours to meet the demands of a work culture that doesn’t seem to sleep. As a result, it has become commonplace for employers to exploit their workers’ time “off-the-clock”, leading to workers feeling spread thin and unable to truly ever clock out.


How about those two days of the week most of those salary jobs promise as time off? Y’know, the weekend? Well, according to the US Labor of Bureau Statistics, 33% of salary employed people worked for at least some time on weekends, as opposed to 82% on weekdays.


In a surprise to absolutely no one, a new study from Virginia Tech found that just the expectation of responding to emails off the clock is linked to anxiety, poorer health and in turn, affecting our relationships. Even if employees don’t actually work during non-work hours, the expectation of availability increased strain in the personal lives of employees.


At some point in your career, you’ve probably been given “flexible work hours”, which sound great at face value — but as the VT study found, it led to employees feeling like their work was boundless with “always on” expectations.


This isn’t the case in France, where the “right to disconnect” was established 2017 with the El Khomri law. Essentially, the law mandates every French employee contract has to include a negotiation of obligations for how available an employee has to be outside work hours. Italy followed closely behind, passing a law that required employers had to put in writing an employee’s responsibility for after hours workplace communications.


Stateside, Rafael Espinal, a city council member from Brooklyn, introduced a controversial law earlier this year to make after-hours communications illegal.


Espinal’s “Disconnecting From Work” bill would only apply to businesses with 10 or more employees and forbids employers from asking their employees to be available outside of official working hours. In fact, employers who violate the law would pay a fine of $250 and $500 to the employee.


But if you don’t live in France, Italy or the boundaries of New York City, what can be done about managing a healthy work-life balance?


Tips on Balancing Work-Life Balance


When scheduling your work week, build in some specific time you can look forward to with your family, friends or even yourself — hey, “self-care is never selfish”! This way you get something tangible you can plan on sticking to and keep yourself accountable to.


Consider planning to see a movie, staying in and cooking dinner, getting drinks or dinner with friends, whatever you like! If you’re the type that’s early to rise, build in a bit of your morning for some exercise, breakfast and family time if you’re able. Many swear by the sunrise lifestyle.


As for time-consuming errands, consider outsourcing some of them. With the dawn of affordable and easy-to-use services such as Instacart, AmazonFresh, and TaskRabbit chores can be taken care of in just a series of taps from your phone.


Just a thought, how about we start calling it a Life-Work balance? Priorities.