Volkswagon cuts off employees email during non-working hours

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

I am so very American, when I first heard of this, I assumed this was management attacking the rights of the workers, rather than the workers winning something they had specifically fought for.

The backlash against twenty-four-hour connectivity has started.

Carmaker Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) has agreed to deactivate e-mails on German staff Blackberry devices out of office hours to give them a break.

Under an agreement with labour representatives, staff at Europe’s biggest automaker will receive e-mails via Blackberry from half an hour before they start work until half an hour after they finish, and will be in blackout-mode the rest of the time, a spokesman for VW said.

The new email regime applies to staff covered by collective bargaining so it would seem board level executives will still be slaves to their Blackberries.

Very few companies have taken such drastic measures to force workers towards a better work-life balance.

Telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) introduced a “Smart-Device-Policy” last year that calls on workers to claim communication-free time when they are off work, in exchange for a promise that management will not expect them to read e-mails or pick up the phone all the time.

“Mobile communication devices offer a great amount of freedom, but also embody the risk of no longer being able to switch off,” the company said.

Kasper Rorsted, the chief executive of consumer goods maker Henkel (HNKG_p.DE), told a German newspaper last month that he was imposing a Blackberry-free week for the management board between Christmas and New Year – unless there is an emergency.

“I don’t want to have to read mails just because someone is bored somewhere and wants to show he’s busy,” he told Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

Volkswagen, which has about 400,000 employees worldwide, aims to overtake Japan’s Toyota (7203.T) as the world’s biggest carmaker by 2018 by selling 10 million vehicles per year.

VW’s move comes two months after millions of customers of the Blackberry — made by Research in Motion (RIM.TO)(RIMM.O) — were frustrated by a three-day global service disruption, showing how much many rely on continuous, reliable e-mail and instant messenger service.

But in Europe’s biggest economy, where burnout is blamed for almost 10 million sick days a year, labour representatives are keen to limit the amount of time that employees spend responding to e-mails at weekends and during vacation.