For one night, employees at the Advisory Board have an unusual task: stay off email.
Stash away those smartphones and laptops, the Washington, D.C., consultant has instructed. For those who just cant stay away, read but dont reply. And while were at it, ignore your inbox this weekend, too, the firm added.
The firms push for no after-hours email is part of a growing effort by some employers to rebuild the boundaries between work and home that have crumbled amid the do-more-with-less ethos of the economic downturn.
In recent years, one in four companies has created similar no-email rules, both formal and informal, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.
For most companies and federal offices, the blurring of work and personal time has financial advantages. Corporations and agencies, unable to hire, are more productive than ever thanks in part to work-issued smartphones, tablets and other mobile technology, economists say.
That presents one of the great conundrums of our recessionary era: Email has helped companies eke out more from each worker. But the perpetually plugged work culture is also making us feel fried.
At the Advisory Board, the frustration showed up in an internal survey of its 1,750 employees. Workers said they would be happier and more likely to stick around longer if they had less after-hours email to tackle.
So over Labor Day weekend, the company launched an experiment: an email-free holiday. Musslewhite, the boards chief executive, said it was important to set an example from the top, so he followed the rules, too. It was his first weekend where his only emails were about his childrens lacrosse games and dinner plans with friends.
Its not large in minutes but frees your mind from other ways, he said, adding, Im personally enjoying this myself.
After that weekend, a group of more than 100 employees continued the no-email policy. Musslewhite is back to emailing after hours, but he schedules messages to be sent the next morning, not late at night. He is careful not to copy too many people on emails, to control inbox overload.
Its too early to say how the policies are affecting productivity, he said. But Musslewhite said email has become a burden even during business hours. So much time is spent on email busywork that employees arent able to focus on new and creative ideas as much as they would like, he said.