LONDON — Volkswagen turns off some employees' email 30 minutes after their shifts end. Goldman Sachs is urging junior staffers to take weekends off. BMW is planning new rules that will keep workers from being contacted after hours.
This surge in corporate beneficence isn't an indication that employers are becoming kinder and gentler — it's about the bottom line. After years in which the ease of instant communication via email and smartphones allowed bosses to place greater and greater demands on white-collar workers, some companies are starting to set limits, recognizing that successful employees must be able to escape from work.
After seeing colleagues lose their jobs during the Great Recession, workers are more inclined to come in to work, even when sick, surveys show. After hours, physical presence is replaced by the next best thing — a virtual one. Many employees fear switching off, instead deciding to work on vacation, during dinner and in bed with the help of smartphones, laptops and tablet computers.
After worrying about trimming staff numbers during the recession, employers are focusing on how to keep those who are left from burning out.
One strategy, which Goldman Sachs has been trying, is to make people feel less at risk in their jobs. To keep junior analysts from burning out in the attempt to prove their worth, the bank has decided to start hiring first-year analysts as permanent employees, instead of taking them on as contract workers.
"The goal is for our analysts to want to be here for a career," said David Solomon, global head of investment banking at Goldman Sachs. "This is a marathon, not a sprint."
Though technology has helped boost worker productivity over the past few decades, it has come with related costs, like stress. It is hard for a company to control the amount of technology used in the workplace and at home since it is so integral to modern life. Volkswagen addressed the issue in a blunt, if effective, manner — by deactivating some workers' email accounts once their shifts were over.
Quirky, a New York-based startup that shepherds inventions to the marketplace, has instituted a "blackout" week once a quarter during which no one except customer service representatives are allowed to work.
"We all dropped pencils together," said CEO Ben Kaufman, who figured he could bring the idea of reinvention to his own company. "People were getting burned out. They needed to see other things besides their desk."
And having the message come right from the top was important for Shirin Majid, the company's 39-year-old head of digital marketing, who laments not having enough time to spend with her husband and 9-month-old daughter, Ella. In 17 years of public relations work, she has yet to take a vacation devoid of that dreaded phone call from the office.
But not last week. No one could call from the office — since no one was at the office.