Bienvenue: The right to disconnect
It’s a long-held view that work, and the mental challenges it presents us with, is good for our wellbeing.
It keeps us cerebrally challenged and mentally active. However, as with anything, there is a tipping point at which too much challenge and pressure can start to damage the wellbeing of our colleagues, and ultimately, the organisation.
BBC News ran this story online on the 26 December 2016: Dentsu chief resigns after overworked employee commits suicide. This wasn’t the first example of an employee taking their own life due to workplace demands. In 2014, 10 employees of France Telecom took their own lives due to pressures of work. In July 2016, the Paris prosecutor recommended that its former CEO and other key figures should be put on trial for bullying.
So, we have a conundrum: To what extent do people have the right to exercise the choice to voluntarily work extra hours to remain on top of their workload? And to what extent do people feel they have no choice but to work extra hours to get their work done?
Who is there to make sure that guidelines are in place to achieve a good work-life balance, and remain healthy, challenged, creative and effective in their work? Is this the role of HR, the CEO (leading by example), and individual managers (leading by example)? Or is it the or the role of the trade unions to keep managers and organisations honest?
In France, it appears to be the role of the legislators to enshrine in statute the right of workers to disconnect out of hours. From 1st January 2017, French companies who employ over 50 people have been obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails. Bienvenue “the right to disconnect”.
Supporters of the law argue that employees who are expected to check and answer emails out of their work hours are not being paid fairly for their overtime, and the practice carries a risk of stress, burnout, sleep problems and relationship difficulties.
This is not the first attempt to have been made to limit employee use of work email outside of working hours. In 2014, Daimler set up an option whereby any email sent to an employee while they were on holiday would be automatically deleted while they were away. This is perhaps a somewhat militant approach, but annual leave time must also be included in the conversation about disconnecting day-to-day.
So to finish, here a few questions for you to ponder:
What does your organisation do to tackle the downsides of 24-hour connectivity?
Do you have a best practice voluntary code?
Who should be the guardian of employee wellbeing – ensuring they stay focused, productive. Challenged, effective and creative at all times?
Does the UK Government need to step up to the plate and legislate like the French have done?