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  • Guy Chazan

Porsche told to hit the brakes on out-of-hours emails

Auto-delete messages to protect staff free time, suggests works council head.

In the future, there may be little point emailing a worker at German carmaker Porsche in the evening or at weekends. Your message may be automatically deleted.

Uwe Hück, the head of Porsche’s powerful works council, said the carmakers’ workers should be protected from work-related emails in their free time. Any correspondence between 7pm and 6am should be “returned to sender”.

“To read and reply to emails from the boss during the evenings is unpaid working time which increases stress — that’s just not acceptable,” Mr Hück, who is also deputy chairman of Porsche’s supervisory board, told news agency DPA.

Business groups reacted with horror. “Pure populism,” said Martin Leutz, spokesman for Gesamtmetall, the engineering employers’ federation. Another group, the BDA, pointed out that in any case under German law “no worker can be reached around the clock”.

Yet a recent poll by Bitkom, the German digital trade association, found that three out of four employees in Germany expect to be contactable over the Christmas and New Year holiday — a big increase on a year go.

At the same time, some might argue Germany is the last place that needs the type of rules Mr Hück proposes. German officialdom is rarely contactable outside office hours or during lunch hours. Journalists routinely complain about press officers going Awol in the evenings and at weekends — even during a big breaking story.

But Mr Hück’s intervention reflects rising global concern about the “always-on” work culture and the effect compulsive phone-checking is having on employees’ health and wellbeing. Trade unions and health groups warn it could permanently disrupt the work-life balance and is a big cause of burnout and sleeplessness.

Some countries have tried to solve the problem through legislation: a French law came into force this year requiring companies to guarantee employees a “right to disconnect” from technology.

Mr Hück’s ideas are not new. Daimler operates a scheme called “mail on holiday” that automatically erases employees’ emails while they’re on vacation. Under rules introduced In 2011, Volkswagen blocks workers’ emails between 6.15pm and 7am and at weekends. A company statement said the rule sent out a “signal” to workers and bosses that “leisure time should be respected and . . . only disrupted in an emergency”.

Yet in VW’s case, the emails are in the worker’s inbox when he or she arrives at the office the next morning. Under Mr Hück’s proposal, emails that arrive in the evening would be automatically deleted, forcing the sender to write again during office hours.

“What’s the point of a mail blocker when you then come to work and have a massive amount of mails to deal with?” he said. Employees dealing with markets in other time zones such as China and the US — as well as senior management — would be exempted from the rules, he added.

A Porsche spokesman said it was an “interesting idea, and will be the subject of discussion”. But Kai Bliesener, spokesman for the Porsche works council, was more forthright. “I’m sure this will be part of the new contract negotiated next year with management,” he said.

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