Should emails be banned after 5pm?

Teachers should not be expected to answer emails or spend hours marking schoolwork after 5 pm according to the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan.

Should emails be banned after 5pm?

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, she cited that a school in her constituency had applied the ban to try to address the work-life-balance problem and encouraged that decision. Jason Harrison, Director of External Relations at Teacher Support Network, and Anna Hessenbruch, Marketing Manager, take up the debate; should emails be banned after 5pm?

Jason:

In this world of 24-hour availability, when everyone is contactable, we don't often think about pinging off an email to our colleagues. Particularly, as leaders, often, after hours is the easiest time to catch up on our mail and send a response. Indeed, it is now gone 6pm and I am sat writing this article on my commute home. As I look around the carriage, I am not alone in being on my phone. In fact, according to research from recruiter Randstad 7.5% of employees use their commute to work, with one in ten (9.2%) feeling that “new technology [had] increased the pressure on them to get work done on their journey to and from work”

But at what cost does this extra work come?

We already know that teachers and education professionals work on average an extra 11 hours a week[2], while figures from the NUT suggest that as many as 90% of teachers had considered quitting the profession over workload.  The papers have been filled recently with discussions regarding the recruitment and retention crisis in schools, with our own research suggesting that a third of all teachers are planning to leave the profession in the next five years. 40% cited excessive workload as the reason for leaving.

It is clear that something needs to be done to tackle the problem of workload, and of course a ban on emails after 5pm is not going to solve the workload problem or improve recruitment and retention. What it does do is make us question what we expect of ourselves and of our colleagues out of hours and begin to think about how our actions influence others.

In our work with heads and school leaders, we often talk to them about what impact their email might have on their staff. Yes, it may be that 11pm on a Sunday is the perfect time for them to catch up on their correspondence, but what does it feel for their colleague receiving that email? The head may have allocated time for this task, but what of their employee? Are they anticipating the email? Is their Sunday night about waiting for the bosses email followed by a couple of hours late night prep ahead of Monday, when they may be expected to action or have actioned whatever it is they have been emailed? The lesson is what may be good for you is not necessarily right for the person you are sending to.

Yet, what if that is the only time you have available to respond to your overflowing inbox? Why not write your emails then, save them as drafts and send them at a more reasonable time in the morning?  This may involve a little more planning and perhaps a delay in response times, but could it make for a more effective engagement with staff?

This, is seems to me, is part of the answer. No, it is not always practical not to respond to emails after a certain time. I may not be in the classroom anymore, but press rarely operates during normal office hours. It is more about thinking how do I get the best from the people I want to engage with? Is that by sending an email now or by spending a little more time thinking about what they might need?

Now, sometime well after 6pm, I shall stop emailing and not send myself this article until an appropriate time in the morning!    

Anna:

As well intentioned as this sentiment is, Ms Morgan is attempting to treat the symptoms of an illness, rather than treat the illness itself. According to recent research by the Teacher Support Network, 34% of polled teachers said that they intend to leave teaching in the next 1-5 years. The reasons cited in their motives for leaving the profession included excessive workloads (40%) and unreasonable demands from line managers (24%). To suggest that the current recruitment crisis in education can be remedied by an out-of-office ban on emails is, as the NUT’s deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said, “naive and delusional”.

According to recent research, a secondary teacher works an average of 63.3 hours a week. With constant reforms on exams, and increasing pressure on teachers to bolster student results, it is no wonder that teachers are feeling overwhelmed by their workloads. Not only that, but the most recent government statistics cite that in the 2012-13 academic year, 57 per cent of teachers in service at any time during the year had at least one period of sickness absence compared with 55 per cent in 2011-12. For those teachers taking sickness absence the average number of days lost was a whopping 7.9. These are all signs that the teaching profession is becoming a burnout profession. 

Although out-of-office emails might be an added source of stress to teachers, and banning them could genuinely be a positive change, it is just one of the symptoms of a much more grim illness. Let us stop treating pneumonia with cough syrup. Instead, let’s talk about the real issue at hand; teaching is increasingly becoming an unrewarding and gruelling profession, and to solve the recruitment crisis, we must think about teacher wellbeing as a whole, and how we can stop teachers from burning out.

“Britain’s workers are using their commutes to become more productive,” Randstad (2013)

Labour Force Survey and Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2012, published by the TUC