Alternatives to Annual Reviews

With only a few weeks left in 2014, soon many people will begin evaluating the past 12 months and start committing to well-intentioned resolutions for 2015. Managers and employees alike will also begin to feel their stomach tighten with a sense of dread as they are asked to prepare for the year-end annual review.

Few people find annual performance reviews useful. Only 3% of managers reported that their organization's overall performance management system provided exceptional value (Mercer Global Performance Management Survey, 9/13/13), and a recent university study found that even employees who are oriented toward learning and growth find negative performance appraisals unhelpful (Association for Psychological Science, 1/9/2014). When both the reviewer and the reviewed confess that annual evaluations hold little value and causes unnecessary anxiety, should they continue to be part of the performance system?

In the 1980s, Jack Welch, famed CEO of GE, popularized a bell curve rating system that forced managers to rank 20% of employees as top performers who were eligible for raises and promotions, 70% as middle performers who needed improvement, and 10% as low performers who were let go. The system caught on and was implemented by many companies, including Microsoft, Enron, and Amazon. However, flaws in the ranking system have caused many organizations to re-evaluate whether it makes sense to encourage competition between employees, stifle innovation, and mandate that only 10-20% of employees can be qualified as excellent contributors. This type of performance appraisal system has fallen so much out of favor that Yahoo! was criticized just last year for adopting a similar ranking system, which encouraged managers to grade employees on a curve and fire those at the low end.

Although there are ways to make annual reviews less painful (TradePost, 12/20/2012), others are opting to do away with the typical annual review arrangement altogether. Adobe Systems scrapped their extensive annual review system after noticing that the number of employees resigning increased after the round of reviews and that the system required more than 80,000 hours of work each year.

Adobe did not, however, eliminate feedback for employees. On the contrary, Adobe replaced their systemic, formal review with an informal and unstructured "Check-In" (Human Resources Executive Online, 7/24/2013). Adobe's new initiative is about encouraging managers to give ongoing, real-time feedback and does not require any formal documentation or process. Donna Morris, Adobe's SVP of People and Places who oversaw the elimination of the formal review beginning in 2012, explains that managers decide how often and in what format to give feedback to employees and are encouraged to evaluate employees based on their ability to meet goals, not on how they compare to their peers. By replacing the review with Check-Ins, Adobe is encouraging more frequent and specific conversations about performance.

Other companies are following Adobe's lead and eliminating the formal review system. Microsoft and GE have both ditched their rankings system. Juniper Networks, a telecom equipment manufacturer, replaced their annual review with a "conversation day" that is not documented, recorded, graded, or reported to HR in any way. However, very successful companies, including giants such as Amazon and Google, continue to advocate stack ranking systems.

Samuel Culbert, professor at UCLA's School of Management, blasted annual performance reviews as facades that lead to "just-in-case and cover-your-behind activities that reduce the amount of time that could be put to productive use" (The Wall Street Journal, 10/28/2008). Culbert asserts that annual reviews should be replaced with reciprocally accountable, regularly scheduled previews, which he defines as two-sided conversations where both manager and employee are held accountable for results produced. Previews are problem-solving discussions that focus on the future, whereas reviews target past failures or mistakes.

As more and more companies are discarding ranking systems, others are going one step further and eliminating the annual review process entirely and replacing the dreaded appraisal with more frequent, informal feedback given in real-time.

Readers, does your company do annual reviews? Do you dread them or welcome them?

November Jobs Report

The U.S. economy saw strong growth in November and added 321,000 jobs, the most in nearly three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Situation Summary. The unemployment rate remained at 5.8%. In contrast to recent months, average hourly earnings rose in November, and over the year hourly earnings have risen by 2.1%. The number of long-term unemployed persons was little changed at 2.8 million, accounting for 30.7% of the total unemployed.

In November, job growth saw the most expansion in professional and business services (+86,000), retail trade (+50,000), health care (+29,000), and manufacturing (+28,000). Temporary help services added nearly 23,000 new jobs last month, up 8.5% year-over-year.

Keeping Your Corporate Holiday Party from Being an HR Disaster

'Tis the season for decorated trees, holiday caroling, and corporate Christmas parties. Company-sponsored holiday gatherings can be either a festive time for employees to enjoy the season and get to know one another or an HR nightmare that results in uncomfortable situations or even lawsuits. Nine out of 10 employers have had employment issues arise during a company Christmas party, and one out of 10 employees knows someone who has been disciplined or dismissed for an incident connected to the festivities (HR Review, 12/2/2014).

Everyone has a story of the Christmas party gone wrong – where animosity between coworkers resulted in a fist fight or employees who've had a bit too much made strange use of the copier. Rather than cross your fingers and hope for the best, follow these guidelines to host an enjoyable party while minimizing legal risks.

1. Give your event an inclusive title.
When sending out invitations for your company's party, remember to name and refer to the gathering with an inclusive title. Calling it a "Christmas" party may lead those who don't celebrate the holiday to feel excluded. Call your festivities instead a "holiday" party and acknowledge that the event will be celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays that fall at this time of year.

2. Welcome everyone.
Of course full-time staff will be invited to your event, but what about contractors and temporary employees? If you include them in the invitation, you are treating them as staff and are assuming some legal risk for any issues that may arise during the occasion, but if you exclude them, they may feel slighted. To bridge the gap, in your invitations welcome employees as well as "other guests" to differentiate that contractors and others fall into a separate group from regular staff.

Be sure to also include "spouses and partners" in the invitation not only to be hospitable, but also to welcome the significant others of everyone, not just those who are married. Finally, don't exclude employees currently on leave; extend the invitation to those on maternity or other types of leave.

3. Choose a neutral venue.
If you're not having the party at the office, then choose a neutral location, such as a restaurant or country club, that won't be offensive to any particular religion, gender, or other group. Make sure to also confirm that your venue has wheelchair access.

4. Minimize – or eliminate – the risk of serving alcohol.
The only way to ensure that no adults drive under the influence or that issues arise because an employee drinks too much alcohol, is to not serve any at your party. Instead serve non-alcoholic punches, mocktails, and other tasty beverages.

However, if your company is set on serving beer, wine, or cocktails, follow these guidelines to minimize the risk:

    a. Establish in the invitation and pre-event communication that minors cannot drink alcohol or they – and any adults who obtain it for them – will face termination. Also make clear that any adults of legal drinking age who consume alcohol must stay out of the driver's seat.
    b. Serve plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and food and shorten the happy hour.
    c. Have a bartender serve the alcohol to avoid employees pouring too generously.
    d. Establish a drink maximum.
    e. Have employees pay for their alcoholic drinks, but keep other beverages free of charge.
    f. Make cab vouchers available.
    g. Assign certain managers to abstain from drinking and keep their eyes open for employees who appear intoxicated.

5. Never tolerate sexual harassment.
Of adults who attended work-related outings that served alcohol, 60% had seen someone under the influence behave inappropriately (Caron Treatment Center, 11/19/13). Again, the best way to minimize the risk of these instances is to not serve alcohol at your event. However, especially if alcohol being served, assign management to look out for inappropriate behavior and train them to properly intervene.

6. Don't make it mandatory.
Some of your invitees might prefer to skip the holiday party entirely for a variety of reasons. Make sure that the event is completely voluntary and that managers do not push employees to attend or ask for a reason that they chose not to come.

7. Decorate secularly.
Employers can choose their own decorations for a party and are not barred from choosing decorations that depict religious scenes – such as a Nativity. However to minimize risks, lean toward non-religious images – Christmas trees, presents, snowflakes, or other secular décor.

8. Have fun!
Mingle, get to know your coworkers a little better, and enjoy the holiday season.

Readers, will your company be hosting a holiday party? Send us your comments at:

“Unlimited” Vacation: Benefit or Burden?

As the winter holidays near, many employees all over the country will be counting their available vacation hours and deciding how much time they'll be taking off for feasting at Thanksgiving, celebrating Christmas, or ringing in the New Year.

At some businesses, however, employees can take off the whole month of December or get away for a trip to welcome 2015 without making sure they have the hours available. About 1% of U.S. companies offer workers unlimited paid vacation (Business Insider, 12/5/13) where they can make every weekend three days long or take a month off to travel the world. In the U.S., where employees don't take advantage of vacation days, companies that allow unlimited vacation may seem like a utopian paradise.

Companies without vacation policies essentially eliminate keeping track of how much or when staff members work. Employees determine when their day starts, ends, and when their job gets done. The 8-to-5 timeframe is completely eliminated.

Richard Branson recently announced that Virgin Management, the organization that manages Branson's family investments and foundation, would join the trend of allowing employees to take unlimited paid time off. If the change works for Virgin Management, then the subsidiaries will be encouraged to follow suit. Branson is not the first to scrap vacation policies. Netflix, Groupon, Glassdoor, HubSpot, and other businesses have already implemented vacation flexibility and allow workers to take as much time off as they want or need.

Advocates are convinced that these non-policies make employees less anxious and stressed. If a worker or a family member gets ill, the individual can focus on recovery, not on using up all of their time off. These employers insist that unlimited vacation breeds trust between the company and the employee and are not worried that workers will cash blank checks for perpetual time off.

Critics claim that such "endless summer" vacation policies actually benefit companies more than the employees they claim to make happier and more productive. Without a pre-determined schedule, , work hours are meaningless, which could make the work day become 24/7. Also, by not giving companies pre-determined vacation days, companies no longer have to pay departing workers for unused PTO.

Additionally, not feeling comfortable to make use of "unlimited" time off may mean employees actually end up taking less of it. Even if employees are hypothetically able to leave the office for the month of December to celebrate with their families, would they feel comfortable doing so? Staff members understand that being away from the office puts a burden on their coworkers. Employees may also not feel able use their "unlimited" vacation because of internal pressures to stay in the office in order to be considered for promotions, raises, or opportunities to be involved in new projects. Branson himself implied a conflict between boosting your career or taking advantage of unlimited vacation. In his recent blog post, Branson explains, "It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers!"

Is it better to have a set amount of vacation days but know that you don't have to check your email or worry about work, or be told that you have unlimited amount of time available but using it might actually harm your career?

Readers, would you want to work at a company with unlimited vacation? Send us your comments at:

Holiday Hiring: Highest Since 1999?

It's the most wonderful time of the year for retailers and consumers as the holiday shopping and hiring season has started to pick up. The last few months of the year, starting with back-to-school shopping in September, are important for retailers, and the winter holiday shopping sprees are particularly crucial for the businesses and the economy. Increased consumer optimism and escalated spending are predicted to make this holiday season especially jolly.

Consumer confidence is at its highest levels since 2007 (The Conference Board, 10/28/14), and increased optimism is prompting Americans to spend an estimated 4% more this year during the winter holidays; U.S. retail sales are projected to total over $900 billion in 2014 (Deloitte, 9/24/14). Households are also allocating larger budgets for presents, while holiday gift spending is predicted to increase 8% (Prosper Spending Score, 9/4/14). In 2013, nearly half of American consumers stated that they would be budgeting less for gifts, but that number dropped 11% for the 2014 shopping season.

Cyber Monday has continued to grow as one of the largest shopping days of the year and is expected to outpace Black Friday sales. Online purchases are forecasted to be especially strong for retailers, with over half of consumers expecting to make Black Friday purchases online rather than in-store and online sales for the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday are predicted to rise 15% (IBM, 11/9/14).

Consumer optimism and predictions of increased spending have prompted employers across all industries to escalate hiring for the holiday season. Retailers alone are expected to add more than 800,000 seasonal workers, the highest number since 1999 (Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, 09/17/14). Many notable companies have already started ramping up hiring. UPS stated it would hire 95,000 seasonal workers, nearly doubling last year's holiday workforce, while FedEx plans to add 50,000. Both companies struggled in 2013 to handle escalated shipping volume and are adding workers in order to meet the demand of this holiday season. Online retail giant Amazon plans to add 80,000 positions, approximately 10,000 of which will roll over to full-time jobs. Walmart and Target both plan to add around 60,000 workers. Macy's leads hiring among retail stores, adding 86,000 seasonal jobs.

Manufacturers and retailers couldn't have asked for a better gift this holiday season.

Readers, has your company added seasonal workers? Or are you planning on taking seasonal work?
Send us your comments at:

No More Managers?

Participation Age companies. Anarcho-syndicalism. Holacracy. To most workers, these terms sound like space-age phrases from a distant future, but to some, they are common terms that describe working at a company that has eliminated all managers and hierarchy. Organizations from a variety of industries, ranging from small start-ups to international companies, have decided that managers don't matter and aren't needed.

Companies that have abolished management roles and traditional structures are often referred to as Participation Age companies. All employees are viewed as stakeholders and work in self-managed teams without corporate hierarchy. There is no one telling them how to spend their work hours or even what hours to work.

Zappos, a well-known Las-Vegas-based online retailer with over 1,500 employees, is one the most recent companies to announce that it will be eliminating traditional managers, corporate hierarchy, and job titles. Zappos has decided to follow the structure of a "holacracy:" a series of overlapping, self-governing circles that will replace the typical chain of command. This type of organizational composition aims to arrange the business around work that needs to be done. Decisions about roles, expectations, and functions are decided by people from within each circle. According to Zappos employee John Bunch, who is leading the company's transition, the new structure aims to free the company from "bureaucracy that was getting in the way of adaptability" and allows all employees to become leaders and take ownership of the company.

Valve, an acclaimed video game producer with over 400 employees, has had no hierarchy, management, or job titles since its inception in 1996. Valve models its business off of the economic theory of anarcho-syndicalism, in which self-organized cliques of laborers work together to achieve goals. As outlined in Valve's widely circulated employee handbook, every staff member decides independently which projects they want to pursue and are free to plan and execute new ideas and projects.

Although manager-free companies are most common in the tech industry, including such businesses as 37Signals, Github, and Menlo Innovations, other businesses like manufacturer W.L. Gore and food producer Morning Star have also embraced flat structures and eliminated bosses.

However, idealized environments with no manager looming over your shoulder may have a dark side. Last year, Valve performed a round of layoffs that included notable staff members. One ex-employee claims that the company's utopian vision actually masks hidden agendas and that she and others were laid off because of "paranoia that their company culture would be contaminated."

Some experts are skeptical as well, pointing out that every organization has some inherent hierarchy and that eliminating a formal structure of management does not mean that status differences won't emerge.

Readers, would you want to work at a company with no managers? Send us your comments at:

Apple, Facebook Add Egg Freezing to List of “Perks”

Employees at many Silicon Valley tech companies already enjoy a long list of high-end benefits, including gourmet dining, free dry cleaning, de-stressing massages, wearable devices, and on-site gyms. Now two tech giants, Apple and Facebook, will be offering female employees a new benefit: paying for freezing their eggs.

Last week, both companies announced new policies that subsidize elective egg freezing for up to $20,000 (about two rounds of harvesting). The benefit is an add-on to a long list of health care perks already available to employees: subsidies to fertility treatments and adoptions along with paid parental leave policies. Facebook also offers parents $4,000 of "baby cash" upon the arrival of a new child.

Nearly 70% of the employees at Apple and Facebook are men. The companies, along with others in the industry, have started putting a greater focus on hiring and retaining women to close the gender gap. Egg freezing is the newest perk in the health benefits race that they hope will attract female talent. Facebook reported to NPR that women were requesting the option, while Apple claimed the offering would allow "women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families."

The policy has been both heralded as a tool for progressive empowerment that levels the playing field between men and women and also criticized as a weak band-aid being slapped onto systemic workplace inequality issues. Advocates of the policy point out that it's completely elective and offers more reproductive choices for women. Compared to men, women face fertility challenges much sooner in life. Female fertility peaks around 28-30 years of age, and having the ability to freeze their eggs give women the option to use them later. Just like other forms of insurance, even if women do not plan on using it, they may be happy to have the coverage as an option. Subsidizing the treatment also expands the choice to women who may not be able to afford the expensive process.

However, critics of the policies say that the option is veiled as a perk, but hides the underlying message that being a mother and being a valuable employee are incompatible. Egg freezing allows a woman to postpone having children but does not address the problems that make women delay parenthood in the first place. Women with children traditionally start at a lower pay rate, make less money over time, are passed up for promotions and raises, and are often edged out of their roles altogether. On the other hand, fathers are more likely to be hired than childless men, and many men tend to be given raises or promotions after having children (New York Times, 9/6/14).

What Apple and Facebook are framing as a perk, many see as the problem. The policy implies that in order to succeed in the working world, women need to postpone or forego having a family and does nothing to solve systemic workplace bias that views women as less productive and less valuable employees. Rather than adjusting workplace environments to value mothers just as much as other workers, egg freezing could make tech businesses even harder to work for than they already are. Even though the option is elective, the policy puts more pressure on women to delay starting a family. Women who choose to have children earlier during their naturally fertile period of life could be viewed as less valuable employees who may be passed up for career advancement opportunities because of their choice to forgo the egg freezing.

Readers, do you think company-subsidized egg freezing is good or bad for women in the workplace? Send us your comments at:

Transparent Salaries: From Hourly Employees to the CEO

Salary TransparencyAt most companies, salaries are rarely disclosed or discussed. Employees speculate and gossip around the water cooler, wondering how much the CEO pulls in every year or if they're making as much as someone else in their department. Discussing salaries is often a taboo subject, but some companies are implementing salary transparency policies that reveal just how much every employee at the company is making, from a newly hired employee to the CEO.

Whole Foods pioneered the policy of transparent pay. Co-CEO John Mackey introduced the concept in 1986, six years after the company was founded. Eliminating the secrecy around salaries, Mackey allowed any employee in the company to look up anyone else's salary or bonuses for the previous year, even Mackey's own compensation. He also extended the sharing of information beyond salaries: each store and region post daily sales data and detailed reports for each location's profitability, and sales are available for any employee to view.

Buffer, a social media start-up, has taken transparency to a new level. Last year, Buffer's co-founders Joel Gascoigne and Leo Widrich instituted a completely transparent policy around compensation for all employees and for the public as well. Buffer decided to disclose not only what each individual was making at the company, but also the formula used to decide how much a person will make. Anyone can find that Gascoigne, the CEO, makes $158,800 while the front-end engineer makes $88,000 a year. Buffer instituted this policy because it believes "transparency breeds trust, and trust is the foundation of great teamwork." Like Whole Foods, Buffer does not just extend transparency to pay. All of the equity distribution is made public, along with revenue; user numbers; and performance in customer support, media, and business. In the month after announcing this change, Buffer received more than double the amount of job applications than it had in the previous 30 days. Gascoigne said Buffer's new policy "scares the right people away," like potential employees who are not a good fit with company culture.

Proponents of these policies -- like Buffer, Whole Foods, and the market analysis start-up SumAll -- claim that increased transparency leads to increased trust. CEO of SumAll, Dane Atkinson, also says that it allows for more rational and open conversations about not just what an employee is making, but why they are making it. An employee challenging compensation opens the door to discuss how the person can add more value in order to reach a higher pay rate. Transparency advocates insist that revealing compensation improves company trust and employee morale, lessening the divide between employees and managers while also eliminating suspicions of favoritism or discrimination. Supporters like Atkinson believe that transparency "is the single best protection against gender bias, racial bias, or discrimination bias." Atkinson does not pay all of his employees the same salary, but his stance demands that higher salaries be justified with demonstrable reasons why that employee is adding more value and eliminates gender, race, and other factors from the equation.

Companies could also find more profit in public pay. A recent study by the University of Berkeley found that when people were informed of their relative earnings position, they increased output and productivity by 10% (A Field Experiment of Relative Earnings and Labor Supply, 11/2013). However, skeptics of ending salary secrecy can simply point to different studies that have found that not disclosing information about how an employee ranks actually increases productivity by 11% (Rank Incentives: Evidence from a Randomized Workplace, 07/2012). Additionally, informed workers may not necessarily be happy workers. In one study, when a university published all salaries to staff, high earners were not necessarily more satisfied with their jobs, and low earners got discouraged and began looking for new work (National Bureau of Economic Research, 10/2010).

Also, employees themselves may not want to switch over to salary transparency, preferring to maintain confidentiality. Public pay may not fit with the culture of that organization, and once you implement public pay, you cannot backtrack. Demystifying compensation brings with it a huge amount of chaos as well as difficult conversations about why some employees are being paid more than others.

Readers, would you want to work at a company that disclosed all employees' salaries? Why or why not? Send us your comments at:

Wearables in Wellness: The Next Step in Corporate Health Care

Workers Take the Stairs for HealthThe Great Recession was characterized by layoffs, pay freezes, and spending cuts, but one part of Corporate America managed to dodge slashed budgets and even see considerable growth in the economic downturn: wellness programs. In 2005, 27% of companies offered wellness programs to employees; in 2011, that number rose to 44% and in 2013, more than 90% of companies offered a health improvement program for their workers (Fidelity and National Business Group, 2/20/14). Wellness programs have grown into a $6 billion industry, and Fidelity estimates that spending on these plans will increase by 15% this year.

Although growing rapidly, wellness programs are a relatively new addition to benefits packages, and a consensus on whether they merit the cost has not been reached. One study from Harvard found that for the 36 large companies they analyzed, company medical costs fell by $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs (Harvard Business Review, 2/21/14). Academy Health published research on PepsiCo's wellness program, the Healthy Living Program, which examined the plan for seven years after its introduction in 2003 – the longest study of a wellness initiative. The report found that the program did reduce health care costs; however, costs savings took three years to materialize and the bulk of the savings came from disease management, which targets helping employees with chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, not from lifestyle management, which focuses on nutrition, fitness, and smoking cessation (Academy Healthy, 2/26/14).

Recently, corporate wellness programs have started going digital to track the progress of employee health goals that qualify them for incentives. Many companies issue laptops and cell phones to their employees, but now some businesses have started giving staff wearable fitness devices to more efficiently measure an employee's health, including nutrition, exercise, and sleep patterns. Fitbit, Nike FuelBand, Jawbone Up bands, and a variety of other gadgets are starting to become common apparel in the workplace. ABI Research estimates that within the next five years, more than 13 million wearable devices will be incorporated into wellness plans (ABI Research, 10/13).

Fitbit for Corporate Wellness ProgramsJames Park, CEO of Fitbit, says corporate programs are the fastest-growing part of his business; Fitbit now works with 30 Fortune 500 companies to integrate wearable technology into their wellness agendas. BPAmerica introduced company-issued Fitbits last year as part of its program. According to BP, 90% of employees participate in the voluntary health-initiative, and the technology has improved the morale and health of the employees as well as lowering the insurance rates for the company and for individuals. BP is not the only company encouraging individuals (and management) to track their health. The multinational software company Autodesk also introduced wearable technology into their health program and had more than 50% of employees opt to use the devices. Smaller companies are also starting to introduce wearable gadgets as an avenue to promote health as well as improve the company culture. Buffer, a start-up social media firm, gives Jawbone Up devices to all of its employees, and Biosyntrx employees in Colorado come daily armed with a Fitbit on their wrist.

Wearable devices that track health not only allow employees to monitor their activity, food, and sleep patterns, but also inspire friendly competition between staff to meet their goals. Employees at Bates College, which issues Fitbits to workers, started to see who could park furthest away from the office to get the most activity points for their "Ready, Set, Go" competition, even during a harsh New England winter.

Wearable technology allows for greater data accuracy, tracks progress and behavior changes, and can also boost social connection. But some worry what will happen to the health data compiled by a wearable device. Is the data owned by the employee or by the company? Can it be sold or shared with third parties? How does the data collected relate to HIPAA? Would the results have any bearing on an employee's performance review? As a new evolution in corporate wellness programs, the merits of wearable tech in the workplace are still uncertain and the questions that their data collection raises also have yet to be answered.

Readers, would you want your company to offer a wearable fitness device? Why or why not? Answer our reader question this week and we'll send you a free pedometer to make sure you're getting your 10,000 steps a day!

A World Without Email?

Email Usage by YearThe first email was sent in 1971; now there are over 140 billion emails sent every day, 90 billion of which are sent for business purposes (The Radicati Group Inc., 2013). The average professional spends 28% of their work week checking and responding to email (McKinsey & Company, 2012). Email has infiltrated the workplace and become the default medium for communication, however some organizations are trying to re-establish boundaries for employees and diminish the reliance on email.

Both France and Germany have passed agreements trying to temper burnout and keep employees from feeling obligated to check and respond to work emails after hours. France's agreement ensures an "obligation to disconnect" for independent contractors that guarantees them a minimum rest period of 11 hours per day. France already has stringent labor laws on the books, including a 35-hour work week and a 10-hour day limit. However, independent workers are not covered by those laws and this new guideline aims to help them avoid burnout. Germany's employment ministry banned managers from emailing employees after hours except for emergencies and forbade managers from penalizing employees if they switch off mobile devices or decline to respond after hours.

Although such guidelines are rare across entire countries, individual companies have started to set policies that allow employees to disconnect after work, and some businesses have begun to ban internal email altogether. When the Advisory Board Company surveyed its 1,750 employees, they found that the expectation of answering after hours email was dragging down morale and causing frustration for workers. In response, the board's chief executive, Robert Musslewhite, encouraged all of his employees to practice an email-free Labor Day weekend. After the holiday, he continued to encourage employees to keep emails within work hours. Similarly, PBD Worldwide instituted a policy of "work emails can wait." Employees at PBD now enjoy nights and weekends free from the obligation of answering emails.

Bandwidth, a company focused on communication technology, enforces a total embargo on email for all employees while they are on vacation. The company's policy is that, while taking a holiday, you should not be communicating with the company and the company should not be communicating with you. Bandwidth claims that not being able to communicate during vacation not only allows employees to relax and rejuvenate, but also forces managers to develop and trust their teams.

Employees EmailingAdvisory Board, PBD, and Bandwidth still operate with email, but some companies are abandoning email altogether as a means of internal communication. Cristian Rennella, the CEO of El Mejor Trato, a South American travel site, does not allow any team members to communicate internally via email. Rennella sees email as a distraction that interrupts his workers' productivity. Since it can take up to 23 minutes to become fully engaged in a project once you've been distracted, Rennella wants to minimize interruptions and increase focus and productivity. El Mejor Trato only has 34 employees, but larger companies have also taken up the campaign against email. Atos, a global information technology company with almost 80,000 employees, started its zero-email initiative in 2011 and allowed 18 months to make the transition. Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos, claimed that only about 10% of the 200 emails his employees got a day were relevant and important. Atos' goal was to have zero internal email by the end of 2013. Although the company did not reach this ultimate objective, email was reduced by 60% and the company is on track to reduce email by 80% this year (Gartner, 6/12/14).

With eradicated or reduced email, companies instead turn to social platforms to collaborate and communicate. The Las Vegas-based company All Western Mortgage dropped email in 2013 for all 450 employees. Like Atos and El Mejor Trato, the company replaced email with an internal social networking system that allows employees to "talk" in internal rooms, post to message boards, share documents, and even video chat. Entire companies converting to zero email environments still remains the exception rather than the rule. No Fortune 500 companies have converted entirely to a zero email system.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon does not advocate the elimination of email, but he does try to enforce his "2 pizza rule" for teams: that a group should never grow larger than what two pizzas can feed. Bezos, unlike some leaders, does not necessarily encourage more communication or "keeping everyone in the loop." He would prefer that team stay small with fewer connections, because as team size grows, so does the amount of communication and coordination needed to get anything done.

Readers, do you feel overwhelmed by email at your job? Would you want to work at a company that eliminated internal email?

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