The tyranny of the out-of-hours email from the boss has plagued workers the world over ever since the introduction of the BlackBerry.
But now, after years of subjugation, one group of workers has struck a blow for freedom: a thousand employees of the German car giant Volkswagen.
In a move designed to restore the sacred Teutonic concept of "Feierabend" – strictly no work out of factory hours – the vehicle maker's works council, backed by its most powerful trade union, this year struck an agreement with the company that from now on email will be disabled for the selected BlackBerry-equipped staff when they are not in the office.
These employees now only receive e-mails from half a hour before the start of working hours and half an hour after they end. They can still receive and make phone calls.
Hans-Joachim Thust, a workers' spokesman, suggested that mobile phones and BlackBerry handsets could disrupt family life and lead to employee burn-out. "The new possibilities of communication also contain inherent dangers," he insisted.
Volkswagen staff were said to have become fed up with being treated as if they were permanently available to their bosses. There were reports of employees having romantic evenings or a relaxing bath disrupted by infuriating management messages.
Mr Thust said that as a result of the new agreement, management had been obliged to draw in its horns and could no longer expect staff to respond to emails at night. Psychological studies carried out on workers have suggested that employee burn out causes almost 10 million sick days a year in Germany. The VW email blackout has been enforced at six of the global concern's German vehicle plants, but it does not apply to all staff. Only 1,154 pay scale workers furnished with a company smartphone currently benefit from the agreement.
However the ruling does not apply to senior management or to staff who fall outside works council negotiated pay brackets. Mr Thust told the Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung yesterday that the practice of limiting management emails to office hours had prompted "very positive feedback" from staff.
Volkswagen can afford to indulge its BlackBerry wielding employees. The company achieved a 26 per cent increase in turnover during the first nine months of this year and is currently trying to overtake Toyota and General Motors as the world's top-selling car-maker. By 2018 VW aims to up its global output from eight to ten million vehicles per year.
Addressing the Volkswagen workforce at a recent rally at the company's German parent factory in Wolfsburg, chief executive Martin Winterkorn congratulated his staff on their Herculean efforts in 2011, which resulted in the completion of 38 extra shifts and the production of 50,000 additional vehicles.
In Touch: Global Communications
The estimated number of BlackBerry users worldwide
The time, in minutes, that the average American spends on a phone each day – twice as much as three years ago.
Proportion of workers who check business emails out of office hours, according to a US study in 2010
Estimated number of emails sent every day — 10 per cent of which are unsolicited messages, or spam
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