German Government May Say 'Nein' To After Work Emails : Parallels In a country that strives to protect work-life balance, there are calls to ban employers from sending work email after business hours. Some big companies are already doing that.
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German Government May Say 'Nein' To After Work Emails

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German Government May Say 'Nein' To After Work Emails

German Government May Say 'Nein' To After Work Emails

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's hear about one more act of protest - a protest against work. Well, more precisely it's a protest against work seeping into your free time. In fact it's a protest against a very specific modern problem - the work email that chases you down wherever you may be and ruthlessly drags your mind back to the office. People suffer this problem worldwide, but Germans especially hate it. The country prides itself on a proper work-life balance. Experts say Germany's long vacations and 35-hour workweek actually improve productivity. So this has caused Germany's labor minister to threaten to intervene in this problem. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RECEIVING EMAIL)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Most of us are familiar with this sound on our phones telling us an email or text has arrived. Our somewhat Pavlovian response is to pick up the device, see who the message is from and read it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RECEIVING EMAIL)

NELSON: In Germany a growing number of these emails people are checking on their phones come from the boss contacting employees after work. That's not healthy, say experts on work-related stress, like psychologist Gerdamarie Schmitz of Berlin.

GERDAMARIE SCHMITZ: This horrible phone I have with me, and so I get emails because, yes, I check them because I can check them. And I get that What'sApp message from my clients. So, yeah, of course there's also, after hours, a constant stress that has not been there before, absolutely.

NELSON: Emails are only part of the problem says Hanns Pauli, who is the health and safety expert for the Federation of German Trade Unions.

HANNS PAULI: You sit there at the table with your computer all day long. You have very tight deadlines. You should contribute to the profit. And every day, every year, it's getting worse.

NELSON: Pauli says the resulting burnout, which leads to health problems and decreased productivity at work, has increased nine fold in Germany over the past decade. Psychological problems and pain linked to such stress were also cited by more than half of the German workers who applied for early retirement last year.

The worrying statistics have prompted German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles to call for an anti-stress regulation compelling companies to reduce stress in the workplace. It would also ban employers from contacting workers after hours, just as they are already forbidden from being contacted on vacation under German law. Some companies like VW and BMW already do just that. But Nahles's boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel, has put the brakes on any quick enactment of a new law forcing other German companies to follow suit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: In a late September podcast, she criticized the proposed anti-stress law. Merkel says the government's focus instead should be on investment, balancing budgets and decreasing bureaucracy to ensure Germany's economic future. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

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