The invention of the smartphone makes it all too easy for employees to be in reach of their employers at all times. Legislators in Germany aim to change that.
German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles commissioned a study recently examining the effects of work-related stress. When the issue of constant availability was looked at, a strong and troubling trend surfaced.
“There is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness,” Nahles says. “We have commissioned the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to work out whether it is possible to set load thresholds. We need universal and legally binding criteria."
One proposed law would make it illegal for companies to email employees about work-related issues after 6 pm. This law would be in line with the German constitution, which cements citizens’ rights to develop their personalities.
"That sort of self-development needs time," German legal expert Thomas C. Kohler told the Huffington Post. “…and the idea that anybody could interrupt you on your own time to have you do work without a good excuse would be contrary to those sorts of attitudes."
The law wouldn’t necessarily come in the form of an absolute rule. It could be something as simple as an initiative where the government helps companies formulate their own rules to comply with a standard. Several large German employers, Volkswagen and Daimler being two of them, already have rules like this in place.
The push for reduced work hours and availability in Germany doesn’t come at the cost of productivity. With a GDP per hour worked of $57.36 (7th worldwide), the nation is firmly entrenched as one of the world’s most productive countries.
This, according to Kohler, is because Germans prefer shorter, efficient workdays over longer days with more downtime.
“With Germans, while they're at work, they only work -- you'll rarely hear a radio in the background," Kohler told the Huffington Post. "They consider it a sign of inefficiency if you cannot complete a day's work in that day. So if you're staying late at the office, it would often be regarded as a sign of your inability to get the work done."