Many Kiwi bosses have stopped sending emails to employees outside work hours and encouraged their staff not to respond to work-related emails as stress levels rise.

The head of a major government department told his managers they could work on emails but not send them outside work hours because recipients would feel obliged to respond.

John Eatwell, a Christchurch-based psychologist, who consults with national organisations on leadership development, said he worked with the regional commissioner of the department a couple of years ago on implementing the block.

He is also dealing with chief executives of a number of national organisations who are moving that way.


Read more: Workplace stress levels reach boiling point in New Zealand

New Zealanders had traditionally worked longer hours than many other countries, he said.

"There is a growing trend, though, to manage this, and acknowledgement that more is not better.

"This is particularly important with cellphones and clearing emails," Eatwell said.

"Some countries in Europe have made it illegal to send emails to phones after work hours. Some New Zealand companies are telling managers not to send emails after hours and are stopping emails to phones during annual leave."

Nelson City Council, which has 280 employees, introduced a policy in 2016 stopping access to all IT systems including work email for staff who are away on annual leave or leave without pay for two weeks or more.

"This has been introduced for wellbeing reasons, to enforce a real break away from work, but also for risk management and fraud prevention reasons," said Paul Shattock, manager communications, at Nelson City Council.

French workers last year were granted the legal right to disconnect and ignore work emails outside of standard work hours.


The right to disconnect bill - the first of its kind in the world - forced companies of more than 50 people to negotiate when employees can work outside of France's standard 35 hour week.

France's Labour Ministry proposed the law the previous year in a bid to preserve the sanctity of workers' private lives.

The overuse of smart devices and inability to switch off has been blamed for widespread burnout and sleeplessness among employees.

The latest biennial Wellness in the Workplace report revealed a marked increase in workplace stress in New Zealand.

The survey, covering 2016, showed a net 22.9 per cent of employers surveyed noted an increase in stress/anxiety and for larger companies - those with 50-plus staff - it was even higher at 30.5 per cent - more than double the 14 per cent recorded for those with fewer than 50 staff.

Eatwell said if employees received work-related emails out of work hours they continued to think about their jobs and did not get a break, which added to stress and reduced productivity.

"You need some time off to be effective back on the job."

Studies showed 36 hours to 40 hours a week was an optimal work time, he said.

With emails constantly coming in, people could become slaves to their inbox – checking them from first thing in the morning until when they went to bed, Eatwell said.

An international study showed "something like 78 per cent of people check their emails on the toilet", Eatwell said.