This summer, France made a big, bold step to combat email addiction.

As reported by multiple outlets, there's new legislation that makes it illegal to work on email on weekends if your company has over 50 employees.

It sounds a bit crazy, but there's a way for U.S. workers to avoid working too much using some simple best practices and by following expert advice.

I talked to Dr. Gabriela (Gabby) Burlacu, a Human Capital Management Researcher at SAP, and asked her for some tips to help. These comments are all hers (in quotes).

1. Lead by example

"While U.S. workers do not want to be told when they can and cannot work, we need a change in the culture of after-hours correspondence. To instill a balanced culture around communication that will last, managers need to lead by example. As the pace of change accelerates and an "'always-on' mentality continues to permeate the workplace, managers need to find ways to help people manage stress or they will end up with over-worked, unproductive employees. To make a true and meaningful change to email culture, leaders must lead by example rather than putting rules or bans on when workers can or cannot email. When managers send emails before or after work hours, it sends the wrong message: That their employees should be checking emails at all waking hours, too." 

2. Cut down on the 'noise'

"The danger is with email noise, or messages that don't necessarily deserve attention but still serve as distractions. The question may not be 'how do we limit emails?"' but 'how do we limit the noise?' We have a tendency to focus heavily on our own work but when it comes to sending emails, the work of others also needs to enter our thought process. Employees need to learn how to recognize what's truly important from the perspective of the people they are interrupting, not just their own. Some companies sidestep this with 'email quiet hours' but these don't address the email noise that happens throughout the rest of the day." 

3. Emails are the symptom, not the problem

"Checking one's phone and Facebook account can be just as time-consuming and stressful as emails. The problem is not being able to focus and constantly allowing ourselves to be distracted. Emails are not the problem themselves--they are a characteristic of the 'always on' culture that is continually developing. There are significant negative impacts on productivity and individual well-being when employees are not able to fully recover from work in a psychological sense. Creating a culture that encourages employees to fully unplug in every sense of the word when they are not in the office is paramount to getting the most long-term productivity from them."

4. The phone is not the answer

"Instead, write more efficient emails. A phone call still serves as an interruption and carries the added memory challenge of not having the conversation in writing. Instead, better worded emails will allow the receiver to immediately judge whether they should interrupt their work for the request. Part of why we are over-using email is that a lot of people don't know how to write effective emails - consequently, we spend a lot of time sifting through poorly worded or irrelevant emails. Employees need practice writing concise emails, with clear instructions that get to the point or the 'call to action' quickly. There is an art and skill to writing emails efficiently and businesses need to train their employees on it." 

5. Communicate about communicating

"Companies need to communicate that it is OK to take work off your mind when you're not at work. To successfully help employees unplug, the workplace must have a culture that clearly communicates that employees are supposed to be 'fully offline' when not in the office. If the company culture is one that values employees taking time for themselves, those who lead need to do this as well. Managers should not email when they are on vacation, for instance. In this increasingly fast-paced world of work, sometimes projects demand off-work engagement from an employee. When this is the case, managers should clearly communicate that this will not be the norm. It's about setting expectations that unless something major is happening (and 'major' should be clearly defined), employees should fully unplug."

Published on: Aug 24, 2016