Smartphone Or Stressphone? Coping With Stress Of Workers, Germany Weighs Ban On Late-Night Calls

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Phone-free! The German Labor Minister has commissioned an in-depth study that may lead to an "anti-stress act," banning companies from contacting employees after hours. Reuters

Germany has already made it illegal for employers to contact employees while they’re on vacation. Now the German government may be moving toward protecting its employees on an everyday basis. To calculate the economic costs of work-related stress, Labor Minister Andrea Nahles has commissioned an in-depth study that observers predict may lead to an "anti-stress act," banning companies from contacting employees after hours.

“There is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness,” Nahles told the Rheinische Post in August. “We have commissioned the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to work out whether it is possible to set load thresholds. We need universal and legally binding criteria.”

Earlier this year, a survey from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work found employees’ perception of work-related stress to be very high and highly prevalent. The agency conducted a total of 35,540 interviews between October 2011 and January 2012 in 36 European countries and found, overall, little more than half (51 percent) of all European workers said work-related stress was common in their workplace, while four out of every 10 workers felt stress was not handled well in their organization. However, four in five German workers (85 percent) said job-related stress will increase over the next five years, with almost two-thirds (64 percent) disclosing they fear it will “increase a lot” going forward. Comparatively, on average 77 percent of workers across Europe expect job-related stress to increase, while less than half (49 percent) believe it will increase a lot.

Germany, then, feels more stress than other European nations. An August study conducted by the German Pension Insurance Union showed German workers may be choosing to retire early as a way to combat stress. Responses from participants cited the pressure to remain constantly in touch with managers and colleagues was a key reason many chose to step down earlier than they may have wished — by some reports, one of every two decisions to retire early is caused by psychological illness. In fact, psychological illness is to blame for 14 percent of missed working days in Germany, or so says a psychotherapist society.

Some companies in Germany, though, are trying to reduce stress on their own, presumably for the sake of their individual bottom lines. Volkswagen, BMW, and Deutsche Telekom, for instance, have all instituted their own restrictions on contacting employees after hours. In fact, car maker Daimler has installed software on employee computers that automatically deletes emails sent to those who are on vacation. While holidays for these employees may have improved, it is unknown whether this has any impact on their day to day working lives.

The results of Nahles' commissioned study are expected to be published early in 2015.

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