From 1 January, French companies will be required to guarantee employees' rights to disconnect from technology outside of working hours.
In principle, this is a great idea. In this modern digital world, checking our smartphones and emails outside of working hours has become habit for many conscientious workers. How many of us check our messages last thing at night and first thing in the morning and just how detrimental is this to our stress levels, our family life and our personal well-being?
A number of studies in 2015 seem to indicate that email is a double-edged sword. An invaluable communication tool, many of us may deliberately choose to leave responding to emails until after the family evening meal and the kids have been put to bed. On the other hand, feeling obliged to respond to emails at whatever time they ping into our inbox can also cause great stress and affects how we manage ourselves, our time and our productivity. A good question to ask ourselves is, does email manage us or are we managing our email?
It seems to me that we hold the answer within ourselves. It is our own emotional response to the email, for example, ‘I must deal with this now or it will impact how I am viewed by my colleagues’ which causes the habits and actions we then take. As managers, we must role model behaviours that discourage out of hours contact, rather than encouraging it by sending or responding to emails outside of working hours or even while on annual leave.
Rather than leaving it to an organisation’s culture and unwritten etiquette around email usage, perhaps organisations should consider having guidelines that prevents email access outside of working hours. The French law could be a starting point to encourage discussion, debate and employee rights, to manage digital communication tools both responsibly and flexibly, with potential benefits both for the employer and the employee.
On 1 January, an employment law will enter into force that obliges organisations with more than 50 workers to start negotiations to define the rights of employees to ignore their smartphones. Overuse of digital devices has been blamed for everything from burnout to sleeplessness as well as relationship problems, with many employees uncertain of when they can switch off.