Volkswagen turns off some employees' email 30 minutes after their shifts end. Goldman Sachs is urging junior staff to take weekends off.
This surge in corporate beneficence isn't an indication that employers are becoming kinder and gentler: It's about the bottom line. After years in which the ease of instant communication via email and smartphones allowed bosses to place greater and greater demands on white-collar workers, some companies are beginning to set limits, recognizing that successful employees must be able to escape from work.
''Industry is now responding,'' said Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology and health at Lancaster University, who says the imperative to be constantly reachable by iPhone or tablet is taking a toll on the work delivered at the office. ''Employees are turning up, but they're not delivering anything.''
After seeing colleagues lose their jobs during the Great Recession, workers are more inclined to come in to work, even when sick, surveys show. After hours, physical presence is replaced by the next best thing - a virtual one. Many employees fear switching off, instead deciding to work on vacation, during dinner and in bed with the help of smart phones, laptops and tablet computers.
People also have more data than ever to process - whether they ask for it or not. Information overload cost American businesses just under $1 trillion in employee time lost to needless emails and other distractions in 2010, according to Jonathan Spira, chief analyst of the New York research firm Basex.
The cost of replacing employees who leave in search of better work conditions is also a concern. A study from the Center for American Progress put the cost of turnover at just over a fifth of the employee's salary for people making up to $75,000 a year. That goes up exponentially for top managers, with turnover costs as high as 213 percent of salary for very highly paid positions.
After worrying about trimming staff numbers during the recession, employers are focusing on how to keep those who are left from burning out.
One strategy, which Goldman Sachs has been trying, is to make people feel less at risk in their jobs. That's not easy in most companies, much less so in investment banking, infamous for its competitive environment and grueling work hours.
To keep junior analysts from burning out in the attempt to prove their worth, the bank has