The Right to Disconnect?

On 1st January French law introduced the ‘right to disconnect’ for employees. Could France be ahead of the curve on the use of devices outside of working hours?

Constant contact?

The Act aims to address the impact of technology, of being constantly connected (and available) on the agenda for HR and L and D professionals. We know from an ever expanding body of research that being connected 24 hours a day has an enormously negative impact on wellbeing. And yet we still do it.

If you are able to answer ‘Yes’ to the following questions you’re probably working in a culture that would benefit from disconnecting;

  • Do you regularly stay late to play catch up?
  • Are you scared to be the first one to leave the office?
  • Do you find yourself emailing late into the night?
  • Is constant connection seen as a sign of commitment?
  • Do you receive email in the early hours from organisational leaders who are burning the midnight oil?
  • Is there an expectation that you will be constantly available?
  • Is it frowned upon to turn your work device off at night?
  • Have you experienced penalties for not being on call when needed?
  • Do you put work over your personal life and neglect either yourself or others as a result?

If the answer was mostly “Yes”, it might be time to consider realigning a few fundamental working practices around disconnection.

Sacrifice syndrome

Chronic connectivity typically starts at the top of an organisation with burnt out leaders caught in a cycle of sacrifice, neglecting their own (and others) renewal. Herein lies the road to exhaustion, inhibiting creativity and innovation. This inevitably trickles down into the rest of the organisation, incubating a culture of depletion affecting motivation, performance and wellbeing. Home and work life become blurred, compounding the problem.

Switching off

Some organisations, such as Volkswagen, have firmly grasped the connectivity nettle and taken the decision to enable servers to reroute and switch off emails after employee shifts end. Other businesses have followed suit by adopting preventive measures to discourage out of hours emails. It’s a start that is garnering popularity but doesn’t include senior leaders. We need to go further.

Creating a culture of wellbeing

For businesses

If you’re in HR or a leadership position, reconsider your leadership style. Leave at a reasonable hour, take time off, don’t email after hours or call colleagues after an agreed time. Modelling renewal will filter through to the rest of the organisation, it will also shift you out of sacrifice syndrome and improve your own wellbeing.

Encourage your team to safeguard their time. Make it clear that optimum performance depends upon downtime being part of the plan. Build positive face to face connection with teams and departments. Be flexible in your approach, encouraging breaks, downtime and true work life balance. Be explicit about the link between flow, performance and stress. Clearly articulate the interplay between work and downtime for innovation, creativity and divergent thinking. Provide the environment and conditions for this to thrive.

Celebrate successes that are achieved with a balance of work, play and rest rather than burnout, making sure that they are communicated to the rest of the organisation.

For you

There are a number of strategies that will help you to consciously uncouple from your device;

  • Switch your phone to silent
  • Don’t use auto login on social media accounts
  • Set a time each day that you will with off your work devices & stick to it (use an accountability buddy if you need to)
  • Charge your phone in a room you don’t use often
  • Remove notifications and watch that Pavlovian response dissipate
  • Buy an alarm clock (instead of using your phone as alarm) and ban your phone from the bedroom at night.

Originally published at positivechangeguru.com on February 11, 2017.