Ever since jumping out of the public accounting ship, email has started shifting from inundating flood to a genuine means of communication (though it still triggers bouts of PTSD from time to time). Public accounting email served as that electronic leash, rigged up to your smart phone as a constant reminder that your life is not your own, and that a weekend or vacation away from the office was borrowed time. If you ever risked turning off your email for a quiet weekend, you’d be facing hundreds of messages by the time you turned it back on again.
Daimler has a solution for that, and it doesn’t involve jumping in an expensive German car and driving to the farthest reaches of the earth to live the nomadic life. Their servers are now set up with a program that not only sends an “Out-of-Office” reply when you’re unavailable, it deletes the incoming email.
I have mixed feelings about such a program. On one hand, I am fully supportive of the effort to keep work out of the home. Big accounting firms are some of the worst in the business for claiming to promote work-life balance (and somehow even getting positive recognition for it) then churning and burning employees faster than a pyromaniac at a matchstick shop. Part of the problem is that you’re serving clients with never ending requests, and many partners can’t help but email vacationing employees with that “Urgent” exclamation point on the subject line.
Whenever complaints grow too loud, someone at the top tries to implement a great new program that’s supposed to change the way we work and make our lives return to the idyllic paradise they sold us as recruits. But the best laid plans are thwarted the second you have a partner who can’t find a workpaper after looking for a couple minutes (whether or not that’s acceptable is a discussion for another time).
An email program that deletes messages when you’re out-of-office would probably go quite a ways to helping people regain a semblance of work-life balance. Well, as long as you haven’t given the company your cell phone number.
The other side of the argument is that the work needs to get done, and the client doesn’t pay us to deal with an annoying email system.
What I like about Daimler’s initiative is that it is self-imposed. If such efforts prove successful in improving employee efficiencies (yes, you can actually look forward to your vacation!), the initiative should spread. All it takes is one accounting firm to successfully implement such a program before the others are forced to follow along or risk losing their best employees. If we can go along that route, we’re onto something here.
If, however, we get a top down, government imposed requirement to drop emails, we’re going to be in for years or whining, with no way to know whether or not it was actually a good idea.
I may be willing to risk a plodding economy and lower pay to avoid the email on the weekend, but my ego is not yet conflated enough to feel it appropriate to impose the trade off on everyone else. Which is exactly why I’m not in public accounting anymore (about willing to make the trade off, not the high ego. Though some would argue that’s part of it as well).
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Picture by Randy Robertson