The right to disconnect: not that easy to implement

The forced remote working experienced during the pandemic has put the subject of the right to disconnect back in the spotlight. When you no longer know whether you are working in your bedroom or sleeping in your office, your reference points can quickly be shattered, and work can become omnipresent with all that this entails in terms of psychosocial risks.

In France, the right to disconnect is a legal obligation, but in reality it is often just a declaration of good intentions that does not translate into action. Talkspirit recently produced a white paper on the right to disconnect which is quite rich in information.

The right to disconnect: provided for but little applied

My feeling about the right to disconnect is confirmed by the white paper. Indeed, according to a study by Eléas, more than 2/3 of the French executives would use their professional digital tools in the evening and on weekends.

The situation has even worsened with telework: according to a survey by the Ugict-CGT in 2020, nearly 80% of remote workers do not have a right to disconnect.

It will also come as no surprise to learn that according to a survey conducted by Qapa in 2019, 67% of French people can’t get away from work during their vacations.

To put it another way: companies are obliged to negotiate on the subject, but if this does not lead to anything effective they do not risk any sanction. And even when an agreement is reached, its non-observance is rarely sanctioned in practice.

I am not going to dwell on the benefits of the right to disconnect or on how to implement it and monitor its application, the white paper does that very well. However, it has given me some thoughts that I will share here.

No agreement is better than an agreement that is not implemented

There are many reasons, however regrettable, why a company may not have a disconnection policy in place. Some are more acceptable than others and it is understandable that for some companies that cannot afford to manage several projects at the same time, this one is not a priority. It can also happen that companies and employees have diametrically opposed views on the subject, to such an extent that they cannot come to an agreement.

What saddens me the most is the fact that when an agreement exists, when a charter has been put in place, it is generally not applied. At that point, the message is no longer “we don’t have time” or “it’s not a priority”, but “we don’t care and we’re cheating even though we’ve mobilized you on the subject”.

The difficult managerial exemplarity

Based on the principle that the stairs are swept from the top, the manager’s exemplarity is essential in terms of right to disconnect. If he harasses his staff with messages at all hours, it will be difficult to explain to them that they do not have to read and process them.

But if blaming the manager is easy, we must also admit that he is caught between a rock and a hard place. It is often explained to him that, given his role, he cannot be unreachable, but what is the point if he cannot, when necessary, mobilize his staff?

Depending on the level of responsibility of each person, it must be admitted that some people have subjects to deal with that cannot wait because of their level of urgency or criticality. These same people sometimes need to mobilize others to move forward and this is when things get complicated. At what point should information or a request be sent down? Can the company conceive that at certain moments, for a crucial subject, there will be a whole part of the organization that cannot be mobilized? And what is a crucial matter? The definition can vary widely depending on the person, their perception, their role, their workload, their way of prioritizing things. All this is as much objective as subjective.

The right to disconnect in the global and flexible enterprise

And finally, we live in a world where companies are more and more international, with employees in different time zones.

In such cases, the practice is to communicate synchronously when two people are at work at the same time and then asynchronously the rest of the time so that one finds in the morning, when starting his day, the messages that the other has sent him while he was working while the first was sleeping.

If you apply the rule strictly it doesn’t work for fairly obvious reasons.

In companies that have implemented flexible working, the same problem arises: everyone has to pay attention to the working hours of others. Is it that simple? No.

A good intention that does not solve any problem?

If, once again, I am convinced of the benefits of the right to disconnect, I wonder if it is not a good answer to a false problem, or the wrong answer to a real problem, as you prefer.

If I go back to a previous article on the role of robots in preserving the mental health of employees and to this excellent article published on the BBC website still on mental health issues, I see strange similarities. We are in the compensation of a dysfunctional system and not in the improvement of this system. Is the question to forbid communication at certain times or to make sure that this communication is no longer necessary?

  • By better sharing of information so that you don’t have to chase someone to find them.
  • By simpler and more efficient reporting tools that avoid having to ask a person “where are we”.
  • By introducing automation devices and robots that take over tedious tasks so that we don’t have to delegate them.
  • By stopping making the right to disconnect a matter of digital tools. Some can ban emails after 6pm and organize meetings at 6:30pm in the office….
  • By a better awareness of the prioritization of subjects
  • By an appropriate sizing of the teams and a better management of the workload
  • etc….

Today, the limit of the right to disconnect is that it only postpones to the next day the treatment of the previous day’s emergencies. Many people do not voluntarily respect their own right to disconnect because they say to themselves “anyway I will find the problem tomorrow, I might as well deal with it now“. Being better organized, equipped, with better shared information could perhaps contribute to the fact that these emergencies can be dealt with during working time.

Image : Digital Overload by photoschmidt via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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