When it comes to work, Natasha Hatherall-Shawe just cannot help herself.
She practically had a nervous breakdown on holiday in Sri Lanka as a result of a workplace drama that she attempted to resolve while on a steam train in the hills with patchy mobile reception.
And she couldn’t even resist the temptation to work on her wedding day last year in the Seychelles.
“I was typing away on my laptop in the morning as they did my hair and make-up. I did manage to lock my phone and laptop away in the afternoon and evening though,” says Ms Hatherall-Shawe, 37, from the UK, who has lived in Dubai for six years.
“Even when I worked for other people I have always had a good work ethic and thrown my all into work, but it’s kind of gone to a whole other dimension since I have had my own business,” says Ms Hatherall-Shawe, who set up her marketing and communications agency, TishTash, four years ago. It now has eight employees.
At the other end of the extreme, France could be about to pass a law to allow employees the right to ignore work emails out of hours altogether. And elsewhere in Europe, 1,000 employees of Volkswagen in Germany now only receive emails half an hour before they start work and half an hour after they end their shift after their works council came to an agreement with the company.
So should we all be doing the same by switching off our phones when we leave work?
“The simple answer is yes, switch it off. That is the right thing to do,” says Carole Spiers, a self-confessed stress guru with clients in the UAE. “But countless people actually push me on this one. They say they are in a position now because of their role and what they are doing that sometimes answers are needed.”
The classified advertising site Dubizzle does not have an official policy to encourage or discourage out-of-hours emails. But its flexible working arrangements mean that its staff often respond anyway.
“Employees basically use their own discretion as to when they work. And if they need to take a day off for personal reasons or because they’ve worked over a weekend, that’s perfectly fine,” says Ruth Scott, Dubizzle’s human resources director for the Middle East and Africa.
“Most of them do access emails because there is no hard-and-fast rule around it. Since the working environment is so flexible, we find people are more than willing to go the extra mile and do what they need to do, even in the evening or on the weekend. This is because they know they can get that time back without even asking the company.”
Ms Spiers said that more is being expected of UAE workers in the challenging economic climate, which makes it harder to switch off.
Sophia Fromell, a life coach in Dubai, says out of hours emailing is a problem she sees regularly among her clients, who are often the bosses. She tells her clients to be clear about their expectations, setting out whether they need to respond and, if they do, by when.
“[I also say to] set the tone to discourage this after-hours or always-on attitude. It’s not productive. It stresses people. Instead, encourage people to go and speak to each other,” she says.
“If you are the receiver, think whether the pressure to respond to this email as soon as possible is self-inflicted. Most of the time it is. What difference is it going to make if I respond tonight or first thing tomorrow morning? You just need to take a step back and think, is this really necessary?”
And if you decide it is absolutely necessary to respond to out of hours work emails, Ms Spiers suggests setting aside a specific time, for example, half an hour or an hour to read and answer them.
That way you have more control over your time. And controlling your time can help control your stress levels.
“The stress is there but what you need is to build your resilience in order that you can manage it. And one of the ways you can build your resilience is by saying no and turning off your emails,” says Ms Spiers. She sets aside half an hour in the evening, starting at 7.30pm, to deal with out-of-hours emails. That leaves her the rest of the evening to switch off.
Ms Hatherall-Shawe, on the other hand, for a long time could be contacted round the clock. But since she married, she has tried to avoid working so much. However, that does not mean it is easy.
“Recently my family was visiting and my husband and I took a rare day off because we hadn’t seen each other that much. We went to the water park at Aquaventure [in Dubai]. The main reason was when you go to Aquaventure you have to lock your phone away in a locker, so I have found that is one of the best places to switch off because your phone is gone,” she says.
“Probably a year ago I might have been [more stressed about that] but I think I’m getting a bit better. I am trying to work really hard on working less.”
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