Step away from your inbox: why ‘always on’ isn’t always fun

On 1 January 2017, a law that gives workers the ‘right to disconnect’ from technology came into effect in France. Considering we find ourselves in what has been dubbed the ‘always on’ culture, this was a timely move. In fact, the first court ruling was ordered for the French wing of Rentokil Initial last week, where they are due to pay £53,000 to a former employee for not respecting his ‘right to disconnect’.

Rapid changes in technology have thinned the boundaries of work and personal life. Switching off, limiting email usage and not taking calls outside of working hours is hard; there is often an unsaid expectation to always be on call and respond, no matter where or when.

But at what cost?

Multitasking between email correspondence and different media forms can increase stress levels (no surprise there), and it’s ‘associated with mental health issues such as depression and social anxiety’ says Eoin Whelan, lecturer at the JE Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway.

Being unable to switch off has also been linked to restlessness, sleeplessness and relationship troubles, and underlying stress. It also impacts our ‘cognitive bandwidth’, which as a result, dampens our ability to focus and what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined as being our ‘flow’.

Fabien Mathy, a psychologist at the Sophia Antipolis University in Nice, France, reiterates this belief and claims that emails have ‘all the characteristics of an addiction’, which results in  breaking up concentrated deep work and lowered productivity.

What can companies do to help their employees switch off?

In France’s case, companies are now expected to negotiate the ‘right to disconnect’ with their employees. So, there’s leeway in terms of what that means for every company – it could be that employees are encouraged to stop checking emails after a certain time, or to be on call at different times.

The provision of flexible working is another solution and shows that the company is willing to understand its employees and help them tailor their work in a way that works best for them.

Asking what your employees need in terms of support is very important. HR can take that information and use it to inform health and safety guidelines; and can highlight ways to be more mindful of the impact of being ‘always on’, and also how to reach out when feeling overwhelmed.

Posted on 9th August 2018 in Capability
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