The email culture that is German, with reference to optimal queuing theory

by on August 14, 2014 at 2:22 am in Web/Tech | Permalink

Daimler employees can head to the beach this summer without worrying about checking emails, sparing their partners and children the frustration of work-related matters intruding on the family vacation.

The Stuttgart-based car and truckmaker said about 100,000 German employees can now choose to have all their incoming emails automatically deleted when they are on holiday so they do not return to a bulging in-box.

For that matter they will not feel any pressure to check work email while they are away.  From the FT there is more here.

You will notice this is related to some ideas from optimal queuing theory.  The sender is notified that the email will be obliterated, and if it is important, he or she can send again and rejoin the queue once the recipient is back from vacation.  In other words, when a long queue of email might otherwise form, potential queue creators are told they have to wait and restart later on, but at the back of the line, so to speak.

Some part of me finds this deeply wrong, but perhaps as a blogger/infovore I am not the person to ask.  And there is this, which I don’t believe can be the long-term equilibrium:

It is up to Daimler employees to decide whether they wish to use the system, but Daimler assured staff it would not record who had done so.

There is a legal/regulatory angle too:

Germany’s labour ministry told managers to stop emailing or calling staff out-of-hours except in an emergency.

david August 14, 2014 at 2:50 am

this favours people who can assign broad responsibilities (“get these things done”) rather than specific tasks (“email colleague John Smith to get the customer records so you can start getting these things done”)

subordinates who have responsibilities have to find some way to get the product out of the door regardless. so this seems like a concession to the priorities of senior management, at the expense of junior management

Someone from the other side August 14, 2014 at 3:14 am

It sounds more like a good way to get people to prioritize and even more importantly, eliminate seemingly urgent but not value adding tasks. It’s kind of like Volkswagen’s no email after 7 policy, that for sure also has the nice side effect on cutting down on spur of the moment brainfarts resulting in additional effort…

david August 14, 2014 at 3:18 am

I suppose that depends whether one thinks those after-hours emails were adding any productivity

Someone from the other side August 14, 2014 at 5:41 am

By experience: usually not.

Quite Likely August 14, 2014 at 11:25 am

But if you are on the specific tasks side of that dichotomy, wouldn’t you also be less likely to really be needed while on vacation?

You also need to consider that this helps workers more the less power they have. A CEO might be able to just start doing this and make people deal with it, even without the rule. A low level worker doesn’t have that sort of power, and thus is helped more by this kind of anti-exploitation rule.

Just an Australian August 14, 2014 at 3:45 am

Well, it’s certainly not something that someone who subscribes to email lists out of anything but casual interest can go for.

JC August 14, 2014 at 4:03 am

I don’t know whose idea was this, but it’s music to my ears. I hate going through not so important/urgent e-mails when I get back to work after a break. Most people get an e-mail notifying my absence but a good bunch of them just keep sending them despite being aware of the date I will be back.

dan1111 August 14, 2014 at 4:09 am

A company voluntarily letting companies ignore emails? Great.

A government official setting policies about when businesspeople can call/email? A nice illustration of what is wrong with Europe.

Andreas Moser August 14, 2014 at 4:23 am

What is wrong about a Department of Labor reminding companies that if they have fixed-time contracts with employees, they should stick to these mutually agreed times? If they want a 24/7 employee, they can negotiate a contract for a 168-hour workweek (and see what it does to productivity, motivation and staff turnover).

dan1111 August 14, 2014 at 6:49 am

Most contracts are for a number of hours per week, not set working times. Answering an email at 10:00 pm is not the same as continuously working up until 10:00 pm.

As an employee, all I want is to be able to freely negotiate a contract with an employer as I see fit and then work according to that contract. If my boss asks me to exceed the contract, I can choose to do that, or it is my responsibility to say no. The government’s interference in this process is paternalistic and often ends up harming employees and employers alike. That’s why I object to it and, indeed, find it offensive.

And in Germany, you can’t negotiate a contract for more than 48 hours per week.

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 7:42 am

‘And in Germany, you can’t negotiate a contract for more than 48 hours per week.’

Along with the legal requirement of an absolute legal minimum of 4 weeks paid vacation per year for full time employees.

Though Daimler, being one of those German companies hobbled with a strong union, provides 6 weeks.

dan1111 August 14, 2014 at 8:00 am

“Hobbled” is definitely the right word. I’m glad we can agree on something.

J August 14, 2014 at 9:39 am

Ya, pity those Germans…

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 10:11 am

‘“Hobbled” is definitely the right word. I’m glad we can agree on something.’

Well, only if we can agree on what ‘hobbled’ means – ‘Daimler AG (DAI)’s plan to restore its Mercedes-Benz brand to the top of the luxury-car market gained traction in the second quarter as surging deliveries of the flagship S-Class sedan propelled a jump in profitability.

Earnings before interest and taxes at Mercedes-Benz Cars, which also includes the Smart urban-vehicle marque, widened to 7.9 percent of revenue from 6.4 percent a year earlier, Daimler said today. Mercedes is attracting customers with a new S-Class version that reached showrooms a year ago and additional variants that will culminate in 2015 with the $1 million Pullman limousine featuring three rows of seats.

Daimler Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche laid out a strategy for Mercedes to retake the worldwide lead in premium-vehicle sales by the end of the decade after the brand fell to third place in 2011, ranking behind German manufacturers BMW and Audi. Zetsche’s plan also includes making Mercedes the most profitable luxury-auto producer, with a margin target of 10 percent.

———————————–

BMW, which publishes second-quarter earnings on Aug. 5, reported a full-year 9.4 percent margin from carmaking in 2013, the top end of a target corridor. Audi, whose owner Volkswagen AG is scheduled to release quarterly figures on July 31, posted an operating margin of 10.1 percent last year, exceeding its long-term range of 8 percent to 10 percent.’ http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-23/daimler-quarterly-earnings-rise-12-on-sales-of-s-class.html

Of course, in all fairness, BMW and Audi/VW/Porsche are equally hobbled by the same union framework.

Anonymous August 14, 2014 at 10:43 am

“A nice illustration of what is wrong with Europe.”

Strange how people actually living in Europe don’t seem to mind.

Christian Basteck August 14, 2014 at 11:41 am

>A government official setting policies about when businesspeople can call/email? A nice illustration of what is wrong with Europe.

The Labour Ministrie’s guideline only concerns it’s own employees. (Though they hope to lead by example, i.e. see private companies adopt similar rules.)

Andreas Moser August 14, 2014 at 4:35 am

When people keep e-mailing despite my automatic “I am on vacation” reply, I know they are a bit daft and that I can take advantage of them upon my return.

dan1111 August 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

The way you have phrased that suggests that you are actually checking your emails on vacation. As such, are they really daft to keep emailing you?

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 10:13 am

After a week or two vacation, it is pretty easy to check your inbox, and see who ignored your vacation notification. And then classify them as kind of stupid, since in Germany, it is routine to include the date you expect to return to the office.

Someone from the other side August 14, 2014 at 10:21 am

I seem to recall that both Exchange and Notes actually do that automatically, no?

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 10:26 am

Notes does – yes, we use Notes at work. (And no, I don’t actually understand most of the complaints against a rock stable environment for handling business needs – though it is IBM, no question)

Someone from the other side August 14, 2014 at 11:11 am

Rock stable? Sure, it is about as stable as gypsum when it gets wet…

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 11:53 am

‘Rock stable’

Actaully, it must only be the German version with IBM certified administrators that is like that, I guess. But then, we used OfficeVision for e-mail before that, to give one an idea of just what sort of software house I work for.

Steve Sailer August 14, 2014 at 4:39 am

Labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan’s 2010 book about Germany, “Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?” is quite informative:

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2010/09/were-you-born-on-wrong-continent.html

andrew' August 14, 2014 at 4:48 am

Why is it the sender’s responsibility to know or care about your vacay? Rarely do I send an email assuming someone is at their desk eagerly awaiting its arrival. Do Germans take whole months off like the French?

dearieme August 14, 2014 at 5:03 am

Don’t people get one of those automatic replies along the lines of “Sod off, I’m on my holidays”? I suppose the prob is that those often end with a limp-wristed “I’ll deal with your message on my return”.

andrew' August 14, 2014 at 5:14 am

Five minutes later I forgot you were out of the office, bless you are my boss, then I know it in my soul.

miti August 14, 2014 at 6:43 am

Most email systems these days auto trash auto replies or they end up in the spam folder.

dan1111 August 14, 2014 at 6:50 am

Only an idiotic email system would auto trash out of office messages. I don’t know of any that do so.

Slocum August 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

I really don’t understand people’s aversion to emails accumulating in their inbox when on vacation. It really doesn’t take that long to scan the subject lines and — assuming your email system is smart enough to gather up the emails in a thread — you can read only the newest one and find out how it all came out. And if you really want to be left completely in the dark, have your auto-response say that “all emails received when I am out of the office are deleted” and then, when you get back, select them all as a group and hit DELETE.

Michael G Heller August 14, 2014 at 5:01 am

“Some part of me finds this deeply wrong, but perhaps as a blogger/infovore I am not the person to ask.”

This sums it up really. You see unfortunately most people do not like and actually resent work, or somewhat similarly think of holidays as a human right or compulsory health issue. Personally (all 24hr infovores probably feel the same) I hate holidays unless I can think of a way of converting them to ‘work’ by which is meant info-stimulus as opposed to sudden incapacitating deflation. This is possible even on a beach. By the way, how are things going in the Bolivia’s ‘capital’ of work? the only place in Bolivia where any and every pinche gringo extranjero no matter what their profession can find a way to pretend they are working, to themselves at least. It’s Bolivia’s dynamo city?

dearieme August 14, 2014 at 5:52 am

The secret of holidays is not to go to the beach.

A Definite Beta Guy August 14, 2014 at 9:18 am

Your emails are probably more interesting than my emails.

andrew' August 14, 2014 at 6:29 am

Q: if you like this idea do you tend to be a phone preference person?

Someone from the other side August 14, 2014 at 10:22 am

No. n=1: I hate phones and I like the idea

ummm August 14, 2014 at 6:40 am

Let people pay to give their email priory

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 10:24 am

The justaposition of having e-mails taking holy vows and paying for it is interesting – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priory

w August 14, 2014 at 8:09 pm

It was a typo. He meant “pray” not “pay”.

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 7:36 am

‘Some part of me finds this deeply wrong’

Possibly because this is a demonstrable case where something other than corporate priorities is considered more important – by a corporation itself?

No definition of freedom is more relevant than possessing time in which one is free to do with as one chooses. That a German corporation agrees with this perspective must seem threatening from an American capitalist tool perspective.

But then, Germans also laugh at the idea that merely being an employee allows a corporation to decide what romantic relationships those employees have. (‘To American eyes, the new ethics manual is standard stuff. But when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) distributed the newly translated code to German employees a few weeks ago, it caused a furor. They read a caution against supervisor-employee relationships as a puritanical ban on interoffice romance, while a call to report improper behavior was taken as an invitation to rat on co-workers. “They have to communicate better,” says Ulrich Dalibor, an official at the ver.di service-workers union, which represents German employees of the Bentonville (Arkansas)-based retailer.

No kidding. Seemingly surprised Wal-Mart officials said they have nothing against romance — plenty of Wal-Mart co-workers have married, the company notes. And reporting lawbreaking is just good citizenship, it said. But to no avail.

The ethics-code flap, which has prompted a flurry of negative headlines in the local press, is another sign that Wal-Mart doesn’t quite get the $370 billion German retail market. Since entering the country in late 1997, Wal-Mart has captured just 2% of German food sales, or $3.2 billion annually, estimates Columbus (Ohio)-based market watcher Retail Forward Inc. “They are really just a secondary player here,” says Sirko Siemssen, a retail specialist at Mercer Management Consulting (MMC) in Munich.’ http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2005-04-10/wal-mart-struggling-in-germany )

Slocum August 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

“But then, Germans also laugh at the idea that merely being an employee allows a corporation to decide what romantic relationships those employees have.”

The reason American corporations care about these things is fear of sexual harassment lawsuits. This is situation created by American law & government.

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 11:56 am

‘This is situation created by American law & government.’

A cynical American with experience working in a non-American context would say this is a result of American society, having little to do with law or government, except through reflection.

dan1111 August 14, 2014 at 8:24 am

“No definition of freedom is more relevant than possessing time in which one is free to do with as one chooses”

I couldn’t agree more. Which is why I object to EU labor laws that limit what days and hours I can freely choose to work and labor ministers lecturing me on when I can send emails.

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 10:22 am

‘Which is why I object to EU labor laws that limit what days and hours I can freely choose to work’

Well, I work a schedule that, apart from any customer/management appointments, allows me to work a minimum of four hours per work day – so that, for example, I can work Thursday from 8pm to midnight and then Friday from midnight to 4am, and thus fulfilled my work obligations under my employment contract. The missing hours can then be made up on Saturday or Sunday – whether 6am-10am or 2pm to 6pm on both days, or 8 hours on one day, is meaningless. Same with going to a local lake for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. Or sleeping late, or going in at 5:30am because I can’t sleep.

None of these arrangments are against EU labor law. (And yes, where I work does have a Betriebsrat.)

dan1111 August 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Good for you. You get to work a really weird schedule. But in (continental) Europe would I be free to spend, say, 49 hours of my time working in a given week if I wanted to? Absolutely not–at least not without being a lawbreaker. So I guess I don’t have the freedom to spend my time as I might wish.

Michael B Sullivan August 14, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Wait, this is interesting. What exactly is your view? That it’s uncomplicatedly okay for, say, a supervisor to have sex with one of his or her reports?

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 2:28 pm

‘That it’s uncomplicatedly okay for, say, a supervisor to have sex with one of his or her reports?’

I feel strangely distant from the U.S. – though I am more than familiar with the idea that someone in a military chain of command should not have sex with a subordinate, the term ‘reports’ is bizarre. Especially when it comes to the idea that a company has the right to control its employees lives apart from the time that they are being paid for.

And in the military, one reason for that rule has to do with the process involved in making life or death decisions – a situation that most certainly does not apply to anything done by Walmart.

dan1111 August 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm

You totally dodged the question.

Michael B Sullivan August 14, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Yes, he sure as hell did.

In previous post, prior_approval discovers that there are dialects of english; attempts to use this new discovery to avoid answering question.

To rephrase in the idiom that is apparently the only thing that you understand:

What exactly is your view? That it’s uncomplicatedly okay for, say, a supervisor to have sex with one of his or her subordinates?

prior_approval August 14, 2014 at 2:35 pm

You know, though Germany is not exactly Denamrk, you might find some insight in how the relationship to ‘reports’ works in German society – http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/cockblocked-by-redistribution

Eric August 14, 2014 at 7:38 am

I’m a VP in charge of tech development, and I love this idea. Email culture is severely outdated, and can leave massive gaps when employees take vacations. As executives and leadership, when staff leaves, golden rule dictates we keep vacationers out of the loop and out of all responsibilities, entirely.

Axa August 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

Perhaps deleting emails helps productivity. It’s a car assembling plant, thus supply chains are long and everybody tries to cover their faults with the excuse “I sent you an email”

I guess the objective is to avoid the mistake of confusing “I sent an email” with “I did my job”. Employees can no longer consider sending an emails as the equivalent of information being received and understood by the reader.

If you’re tracking containers in a ship an email a couple weeks ago is just trash if it wasn’t received by the one in charge. Email delete, forces ( a little) the information sender to look for the right person who should be receiving the info….the email address of another employee, phone, whatever but get the job done.

Nathan W August 14, 2014 at 11:39 am

I suspect that this will improve their ability to retain top talent, although perhaps not of the “thank you for bending over daily” type.

Nathan W August 14, 2014 at 11:40 am

With all due respect for those in positions where this is a necessary fact of life if you want certain kinds of jobs in certain kinds of organizations.

Dan Lavatan August 14, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Exchange/outlook capabilities allow anyone to implement this without any action by management. The logical response is to add automation to automatically resend all emails 5 min after they get back, which is also fairly easy to enable.

On a fundamental level the system is completely impractical however. If they don’t resend the email, do you really want it to be a complete surprise when the electrical system was redesigned and your part doesn’t work?

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