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"Do I Have to Answer That?"

Five information technology companies test new rules for availability outside of working hours

Freiburg, May 16, 2017

"Do I Have to Answer That?"

Photo: Sandra Meyndt

Checking emails at night and on weekends and taking business calls while on vacation: Many studies have shown that this puts employees' wellbeing at risk. But what is it about availability that causes these effects? A team of researchers from the University of Freiburg and the Institute for Social Science Research (Institut für Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung) in Munich have founded the project "MASTER: Management ständiger Erreichbarkeit" (MASTER: Constant Availability Management) to study this question. The project is funded by the German Ministry of Work and Social Affairs (BMAS) as part of its Initiative for New Quality at Work (INQA) and is advised by the German Bureau of Occupational Safety and Healthcare (BAuA). The team discovered that availability can be a problem for employees' mental health when work piles up so high that it's impossible to finish it during normal working hours, or when employees are responsible for taking care of incidences involving the company or a customer outside of working hours. The researchers will present their findings along with practical tips at the conference "Irgendwie, irgendwo, irgendwann – Ständige Erreichbarkeit im Kontext von Arbeit und Gesundheit gestalten" (Somehow, Somewhere, Sometime: Managing Constant Availability for Work and Health) on June 20, 2017, in Munich. For more information or to register, please visit:

The team organized several workshops with employees from five information technology companies to develop some ground rules for dealing with today's information and communications technology. While each company ended up needing a different approach, they all agreed on one thing: "In the evenings, on weekends, or when on vacation, you don't have to answer the phone or check your emails unless you explicitly agreed to be on standby," said Dr. Nina Pauls, an occupational and consumer psychologist at the University of Freiburg. In the workshops, participants were able to agree on several recommendations for dealing with emails during non-business hours. "We talked about how to reduce email traffic and agreed that you should always consider who to send a message to, and who not, before sending an email. That way, unnecessary work can be avoided," Pauls added. "We also agreed that more thought and consideration should be given to when, and in what form, someone should be contacted, and whether an email, a phone call, or a text message would be the fastest way to solve the problem." The ground rules therefore address many of the concerns that company employees share. "New employees are especially unsure about whether they are required to answer messages and calls from superiors, colleagues, or customers in their free time," said Corinna Heist, a member of the workers' council at kühn & weyh software GmbH, a partner in the MASTER project. "Because they're unsure, they answer emails on the weekend, although the person who sent the mails didn't expect them to."

An employee survey from the beginning of 2017 showed that the ground rules have made a difference in the participating companies. "The employees who participated in the project activities have especially benefited from these rules. They are more mindful about availability, are less emotionally stressed, and can take advantage of the potentials of availability to achieve a better work-life balance," said Dr. Christian Schlett, an occupational and consumer psychologist at the University of Freiburg. He added, "It's obvious, however, that change takes time and that all employees and managers need to be involved to make the change effective company-wide."

Dr. Nina Pauls
Professorship for Occupational and Consumer Psychology
University of Freiburg
Phone: +49 (0)761 / 203 -9153