Photo Source: PxHere
With new communications technologies, we have been able to contact our friends, family, and acquaintances more easily than ever. We can instantly message them through plenty of platforms, including Facebook messenger and email. However, while that’s great for getting in touch with family members, there has been some controversy over the idea of what that could mean for workers. Because we can readily contact each other instantly, that can also have the unintended consequence of workers being contacted at all hours in the day. This question has been brought up on the form of the right to disconnect, or the right for non-emergency workers to not have to answer or field work emails once office hours are over. France and New York City have brought up this question.
The right to disconnect doesn’t ban employers or employees from sending work-related emails after-hours to each other. The law is to ensure that the workers don’t experience negative repercussions for choosing to ignore these emails until reasonable business hours. There is an intuitive aspect to it. Because of the fact that the lines between personal and work time can be blurred due to being able to be contacted, workers have been more stressed than ever (The New York Times). On average, workers who get work emails after hours will have a lower quality of sleep and will be less engaged the next day, since there hasn’t been a time for them to decompress and compartmentalize their responsibilities. Companies with a certain amount of workers will have to pay up a civil fine if they don’t follow this proposed law (NBC).
The idea of the right to disconnect is well-intentioned, but does it really work? While New York City’s law is still just a proposal, France has actually implemented it into its labor laws. From the start, France has had much more restrictive workplace labor laws than the United States and New York, so it makes sense that it’s the first country to bring in the right to disconnect (Time). For France, there are no fines or penalties as of yet when corporations disobey the law (this is due to some political turmoil, and the law was squeezed out as a parliament edict). However, the problem seems not to lie with the corporation more that the workers are still obsessed with checking and responding to emails, despite being allowed to ignore them. Even though they had a right to disconnect, they still didn’t disconnect. This may mean that workplace culture, rather than legislature, would have to change for the people to change.
The right to disconnect is an interesting animal. As a law, it reflects the people’s want to detach from work life and compartmentalize the stresses of responsibility once the office shutters. However, because of our obsession with email and responding to messages, we can’t seem to decouple ourselves from it, even with the opportunity to do so. To help its workers, perhaps the company would have to take it upon themselves to actually make a change in workplace environment so that they have better mental health of the workers. For instance, Allianz insurance in France decided to make sure that there are no emails after 7PM their time. A school system also interpreted the law such that the subject line has to read “for tomorrow” for any after hours emails. While legislature may try to dictate the emailing of workers, it may actually have to be up to us if we really want that to change.