The Right to Disconnect from Work

We are in the age of connectivity. It’s been amazing to see how far technology has come in such a short time. 30 years ago, cell phones were rarely seen outside of movies, on wall street, or in the mischievous hands of Zack Morris of Saved by the Bell. However, technological evolution happened, and it happened fast. Now, almost every Canadian carries a cell phone, we have broad access to wireless Internet, and we are more connected than ever. We have information instantly available to us; yet, despite how awesome it is to be so digitally connected, we struggle now to unplug.

Following in the Footsteps of France

As of January 1, 2017, it is illegal in France for an employer to ask a worker to answer emails outside of usual working hours. Companies with more than fifty workers are expected to have policies in place supporting this. Although France is on a completely different continent, the decision is significant because it started a worldwide conversation about the right to disconnect. In March of 2018, that conversation landed on our side of the pond when New York city council introduced a bill that would give employees the right to disconnect. It stands to reason that the conversation isn’t over and that soon businesses all over the world will be examining the workers’ right to disconnect, as well as the impact that being connected to work constantly has on mental health.

Why Disconnect?

There has been so much buzz in recent years surrounding the concept of work-life balance. The benefits are apparent: it is essential to balance work and life in order to maintain a healthy mental state, and in order to bring your best self to both your personal life and your work efforts. But, many people struggle to fully balance the two, and it’s because they aren’t disconnecting. Email, instant messages, and texts are all ways that workers stay tied to their work, even when they’ve long left the office.

According to an article in Business News Daily, answering emails after work hours is stressful. Even if the email isn’t pouring in, simply the expectation that an email may need to be addressed creates stress during off hours.  As well, although some employers may believe that employees who answer emails during off hours are more productive, the opposite is true. Employees who fail to disconnect from work and achieve work-life balance are often less engaged and less productive in the workplace.

Encourage workers to disconnect in the ways that work for them. Some companies have tried programs that include automatic email deletion during holidays or blocking emails during off hours. However, your company need not adhere to such strict rules. They may not work for your company, especially if you’re global. Here are some tips for helping employees disconnect:

  • Do not encourage employees to link work emails to personal cell phones
  • Don’t email staff after hours
  • Set the expectation early, that a response after hours is not expected
  • Put a policy in place that gives employees the right to disconnect

When it comes to disconnecting outside of work, employees have the right to ignore emails, texts, and instant messages when they aren’t on the clock. Not only do they have the right, but it is actually recommended as a measure to keep work and life in balance, and ensure stress levels stay low and do not negatively impact mental health.

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator


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