Should you tell your employees to work less?

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Just a few years ago getting an email at 11pm or 7am would be highly unusual. Today it’s hardly a surprise when employees check their emails on their phone before bedtime or as soon as they wake up. However, some companies are taking steps to prevent these extra-curricular efforts.

The imperative to be always available is taking a toll on the workforce, according to Lancaster University professor of organizational psychology Cary Cooper.

“Employees are turning up, but they’re not delivering anything,” he said. “Industry is now responding.”

From Volkswagen AG turning off some employees’ e-mail 30 minutes, to BMW planning new rules that will keep workers from being contacted after hours, top companies are bucking the trend. Even the infamously demanding financial industry is seeing the light, with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. urging junior staff to take weekends off.

These aren’t organizations known for their kindness, so there must be a business case for the change. Being constantly connected and on call is causing more stress for employees, and studies show that those who take at least two weeks’ vacation a year are healthier and more productive.

Many companies are becoming more concerned with retaining employees, especially those who are losing high potential hires to industries with better working conditions. For industries with a high turnover rate or which have recently had major layoffs many workers feel insecure in their jobs, driving them to try to prove their value by working long hours and in their own time, even when it’s not to the benefit of the business.

“The HR people now talk about regrettable turnover. We cannot afford to lose our best people because we have fewer people,” Cooper said. “We will lose them to companies with better work-life balance, where they don’t have to work 19-hour days.”

To encourage junior analysts to take weekends and avoid burnout, Goldman Sachs has taken steps to reduce how risky people feel their position is. For example, first-year analysts are now hired on as permanent employees, rather than 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.”

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