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Banning out-of-hours emails ‘could increase stress levels’

Researchers say a one-size-fits-all approach should be avoided

Banning staff from accessing their work emails outside office hours could harm their wellbeing, a study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Sussex found that while a ban could help some staff to switch off, it could also stop people achieving their work goals, which in turn could cause stress.

Strict policies on email use could be harmful to employees with high levels of anxiety and neuroticism who needed to feel free to respond to a growing accumulation of emails, the researchers said.

Dr Emma Russell, a senior lecturer in management at the University of Sussex Business School, warned that a one-size-fits-all approach should be avoided.

“[Blanket bans] would be unlikely to be welcomed by employees who prioritise work performance goals and who would prefer to attend to work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed,” she said. “People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload.”

A law passed in France in 2017 requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails.

Earlier this year, New York City discussed proposals to become the first city in the US to grant employees the “right to disconnect” after work.

Ben Willmott, the CIPD’s head of public policy, told BBC News that simply banning the use of emails out of hours may actually make some people more stressed because they would like to, or need to, work flexibly. “Employers need to provide clear guidance on remote working, including on the use of email and other forms of digital communication, to ensure that if people are accessing emails out of hours they are doing so because it suits them,” he added.