On Friday 7th February the Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey called for workers to be given the right to ignore work emails and messages outside working hours to end the “24/7 work culture” and protect mental health.
This topic is something that BMG recently explored using our monthly online omnibus. We asked a representative UK sample questions regarding email volumes within the workplace, how appropriately email is used and the extent to which remote access is fostering an ‘always on’ work culture.
Among those who say they receive at least one email as part of their job, 28% state that they receive less than 10 emails per day. The most common response is that 11 to 30 emails are received per day (36%), with a further 21% indicating they are faced with between 31 and 50 emails a day. 7% of the respondents who receive emails get over 80 a day.
In the context of these email volumes only 2% indicate that managing the volumes of emails they receive at work is very difficult, although 16% did suggest this was difficult. The key message is that 81% of work email recipients do not have any tangible difficulty in managing the volumes of emails that they receive.
Four in five (83%) of those who use email in their job role agree that it is an effective tool for communication in their workplace. Just 6% disagree that this is the case, with 11% holding a neutral opinion. However, as a caveat to this, more than two in five (44%) agree that email is used to deliver messages that would be better sent in another way (e.g. in person). This finding is particularly pertinent for line managers and leaders to reflect on.
Connectivity to email outside of the main workplace is now prevalent, with 65% of those who have work email saying they can access it remotely e.g. through a mobile device. This is resulting in 76% of remotely connected individuals checking their email outside of regular working hours (equivalent to 50% of all work email users). Out of hours email checking is significantly higher in London (86% of those with a remote email connection) than in any other region.
As suggested by Rebecca Long-Bailey, a reduced separation between work life and home life from this digital connectivity is a potential mental wellbeing risk. Indeed, when asked about this directly, almost two thirds (64%) of those with remote email access agree that this makes it harder to “switch off” from thinking about work. This include 25% who gave the strongest possible response of strongly agree. This lack of switch off is being felt most strongly by those aged 25-34, among whom 73% agree that having the ability to access email outside of the workplace makes it harder to “switch off” from thinking about work.Having email at your fingertips wherever you go clearly offers flexibility and productivity advantages for both the employee and employers. Indeed, it is a key part of flexible working practices, which are less and less location specific. But based on these results do employers provide sufficient clarity on when and how this should (and should not) be used? In France a labour law gives employees the “right to disconnect” from email, smartphones and other electronic leashes once their working day has ended. Rather than a legislative approach, we would suggest that UK employers should consider how well this ‘right’ is articulated as part of the more general organisational culture and wellbeing focus.