by Al Sacco

VW to Staffers: No After-Hours BlackBerry E-Mail for You

Dec 23, 20113 mins
IT LeadershipMobileSmall and Medium Business

Car-maker Volkswagen is disabling BlackBerry e-mail during after hours for a group of its German staffers. Is this "forced" work/life balance really the way to ensure employees know how, and when, to "turn off?"

The “always on” mentality is a way of life for many workers today, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets in the enterprise and beyond. One consequence of this endless connectivity is that the notion of work/life balance has eroded for many employees.


Corporate staffers today are often expected to be “on call” in a way many office workers of the past would have found obscene, but after-hours availability via smartphone, tablet or other mobile device is simply a reality for many modern employers. And work/life balance is, well…not a priority for most organizations.

German auto manufacturer Volkswagen (VW) is attempting to reverse this trend, or at least slow its progress. As part of a new initiative for a group of its workers in Germany, the company will disable BlackBerry smartphone e-mail 30 minutes after those workers’ shifts end and until 30 minutes before they return to work, according to a recent report from The BBC.

VW’s move to shut off after hours BlackBerry access was apparently a response to recent staff complaints that their work and home lives were “becoming blurred.” Though corporate BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) mail is disabled during off hours, the workers can still use their BlackBerrys for phone calls. And senior managers are reportedly exempt from the initiative. (Work/life balance isn’t as important to the folks making the Big Bucks, I guess.)

VW’s idea is a novel one, but in my opinion, it’s clearly flawed. The most obvious reason is that “forcing” work/life balance on staffers really doesn’t address the true problem: Some employees can’t seem to draw their own lines between work and personal time. In some cases, corporations perpetuate this issue by making staffers feel like they have to be available at all times, or always “working.” Depending on an individual’s role and responsibilities, it’s completely appropriate for workers to need to be available at all times.

But in reality, most corporate staffers simply need to know that it’s okay not to constantly check e-mail when they’re not at work—and employers need to make sure they’re aware of this. At the same time, employees need to know when it’s time to put down their corporate devices, ignore e-mail until the following morning, or simply turn off the devices.

Also, even the most disciplined of workers, the folks who already maintain a healthy work/life balance, might occasionally want or need to send an after-hours message via BlackBerry or smartphone. And that’s okay. But if their employers disable corporate mail at night, that employee’s productivity and work/life balance may actually suffer.

This issue of work/life balance certainly isn’t new. But as organizations consider the best ways to ensure such a balance for their staffers in the future, I think you’ll see corporations make moves to clarify that it’s okay to shut down at night, during weekends and on vacations. And some may offer workers the option of opting into programs in which corporate mail can be disabled during after hours or on weekends, etc., if that helps.

However, many workers will still choose not to opt in, for a variety for reasons, and ultimately, the responsibility to maintain a solid work/life balance will fall on the individual, not the employer.

AS via