Why a ban on post-work emails from bosses to employees may be unrealistic for India Inc

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NEW DELHI: It’s Saturday, start of your two-day weekend, a 48-hour break from the incessant demands of office…your cellphone beeps…an email from your boss…on a critical project you are part of…what do you do? If a New York City councilor has his way, such work mails from bosses to employees on weekends or vacations would be deemed unlawful. In France, they consider such behaviour very, well, un-French, which pretty much means uncivilised.

In India? Amazon India chief Amit Agarwal was reported to have told his colleagues that they should not feel obliged to take work calls or check work emails from 6 pm to 8 am. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on ET’s further queries. But Agarwal has framed a question that most Indian corporate entities don’t ask.

When ET asked the question to senior executives and HR leaders, the answer, or rather, the answers were complicated.

A few, like Sameer Mathur, director HR, RBS India take the black and white view that work-related messages should stop when office hours are over. “Stress arising out of this (post-working hours work) has led to multiple other complications,” Mathur says, adding those at the top should be disciplined enough to finish work within working hours.

The boss has a critical role, agrees HR veteran Abhijit Bhaduri, it’s for him or her to set the tone on post-work communications. If employees are prompt in responding to after-work mails and the boss appreciates the promptness, that will define the work-life balance or the lack of it.

When the boss appreciates the employee who responds to messages in the middle of the night, he or she is telling the rest of the team what really matters. That’s what the others can do. It is up to people to decide if they will maintain work-off work time boundaries or not.

But may be focusing on mails and calls postwork is just looking at the symptom, not the problem. The problem may be the culture of 24×7 availability. That’s what drives expectations.

“It’s the expectation to deliver 24×7 and not being able to plan realistically around constraints and realities that leads to real work-life balance disharmony,” says Chaitali Mukherjee, partner, PwC.

In fact, rigid rules on when work emails should stop coming may mean managers taking this as a shortcut for creating the right work atmosphere, ignoring many other factors that can stress out employees, Mukherjee says.

Work-life harmony is much deeper than not responding to mails between certain pre-defined hours of the day or night. Hari TN, head-HR, BigBasket, agrees, saying “work-life balance is a complex issue”.

In fact, many executives who spoke off record said a blanket ban on work mails after office shuts can affect results because in many businesses, complex issues come up regularly late in the evening, and at least leaders and senior-middle level people have the responsibility to attend to these issues.

One senior executive in a startup said, being on the job through your phone is part of deal when you are at certain level, and that trying to enforce strict rules is simply unrealistic.

Another manager, in a brick-and-mortar company, said he can’t imagine anyone who works in corner rooms – the CXOs – switching off completely. Those who have large responsibilities, have to bear this, he said.

So, what should you do when your cellphone beeps and you see a mail from your boss…probably read it…he or she wouldn’t have sent it unless it was really important.

Source: Economic Times