The Right to Disconnect
You’re about to settle down for an evening of Netflix binge-watching when a message from a team member marked urgent appears on your screen. Do you open it and respond or pretend you didn’t see it?
In the world of remote work, defining and protecting one’s personal time is challenging. As some people return to the office and others go permanently remote, defining and protecting off-hours is about to get even more complicated. So, how does one balance the desire to be a team player without working 24/7? And what role can leaders play in clarifying the increasingly murky line between work and life?
Defining “The Right to Disconnect”
The “right to disconnect” is a term that has been trending for the past decade. The earliest “right to disconnect” legislation was implemented in France back in 2016 when the French government ruled that any company with 50 or more workers must develop a “charter of good conduct” outlining when employees don’t have to be online.
Since 2016, similar legislation has been adopted in Spain and a few other jurisdictions.
In other regions, employers and employees have taken the lead. For example, in 2017, the German arm of Daimler introduced a “mail on holiday policy.” Under the policy, employees can automatically delete any work-related email that arrives while they are on vacation. Recently, some employee unions have also started to push for the “right to disconnect.”
There is compelling evidence that taking time off can improve productivity and support employee retention.
Work Flexibility and Life
In a 2018 Fast Company article, I argued that the right to disconnect, while compelling, is unlikely to work in the United States. Instead, I called for a holistic approach—one focused on helping employees better manage their boundaries. After more than a year of remote work, I stand by my conclusion. Still, to effectively work, leaders need to provide clear guidance. It all begins by asking the right questions:
- Do you have a compelling need to have your employees available online all the time?
- If not, have you communicated with employees about when they don’t need to be available online?
- If you need some employees available 24/7, ask yourself: A) Who are these employees? B) Why are they required to be available online outside regular work hours? C) Are these employees compensated for their additional availability, and if not, could they be? D) What is their constant availability worth to you and your organization (i.e., how much are you willing to pay for 24/7 access)?
- What structures and frameworks do you already provide to empower your employees to make good decisions about managing their time online and off?
- What additional structures and frameworks could you provide to empower your employees to make better decisions about managing their time online and off?
Asking some employees to be available outside regular work hours isn’t a crime. However, if a leader needs to do this, it is essential to know why and be prepared to compensate employees for their 24/7 availability.
Employers can support other employees by helping them understand the power of logging off and taking time to recharge.