Right-to-dis­con­nect law won’t change bad habits

The Delhi News-Record - - OPINION - CE­LINE COOPER Twit­ter.com/ Coop­erCe­line

Should a gov­ern­ment step in to pro­tect work-life bal­ance and pre­vent the dig­i­tal burnout of its cit­i­zens? In France the “right to dis­con­nect” law went into ef­fect on Jan. 1.

In­tro­duced by French Labour Min­is­ter Myr­iam El Khomri, the new law al­lows em­ploy­ees in com­pa­nies with more than 50 staff mem­bers to dis­re­gard emails and smart­phones af­ter work hours, usu­ally evenings and week­ends. It’s a move the gov­ern­ment says will “en­sure the re­spect of rest time and va­ca­tion, as well as per­sonal and fam­ily life.”

France al­ready has a strong web of em­ploy­ment laws and leg­is­la­tion, in­clud­ing a five-week an­nual va­ca­tion and a 35-hour work week.

This new law aims to pre­serve what re­mains of the dis­in­te­grat­ing bound­ary be­tween pro­fes­sional and per­sonal life.

“Em­ploy­ees phys­i­cally leave the of­fice,” French So­cial­ist MP Benoit Ha­mon ex­plained to the BBC in May, “but they do not leave their work. They re­main at­tached by a kind of elec­tronic leash, like a dog. The texts, the mes­sages, the emails, they colonise the life of the in­di­vid­ual to the point where he or she even­tu­ally breaks down.”

Cer­tainly, it’s a wel­come ac­knowl­edge­ment of the in­creased work-re­lated stress that comes with the ubiq­uity of new tech­nol­ogy that the French — like cit­i­zens in other coun­tries — are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in our mod­ern world. But it will take more than gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion to change our col­lec­tive tech-ob­sessed be­hav­iour, and the en­croach­ment of emails and smart­phones into our per­sonal lives.

The law is ter­rific in prin­ci­ple. Let’s see how it works in prac­tice.

For one thing, there is no penalty for vi­o­lat­ing the “right to dis­con­nect” law. Com­pa­nies are ex­pected to com­ply vol­un­tar­ily. The re­al­ity is that new in­for­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies have chal­lenged our fixed con­cepts of time and space, blurred the lines be­tween work and leisure, day and night. In many in­dus­tries, the no­tion that em­ploy­ees must op­er­ate within a tra­di­tional par­a­digm of fixed 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work­ing hours and phys­i­cal of­fices is be­com­ing ob­so­lete. This is par­tic­u­larly true for those in the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion.

Many busi­nesses are in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and com­pe­ti­tion with com­pa­nies all around the world. Busi­ness hours in dif­fer­ent time zones don’t al­ways match up.

It may seem hard to be­lieve, but 2017 marks just the 10th an­niver­sary of the com­mer­cial smart­phone. In that time, use of these de­vices has risen at a me­te­oric pace. In Canada, for ex­am­ple, a re­cent sur­vey found that in 2014, 55 per cent of Cana­di­ans owned a smart­phone. Just two years later in 2016, that num­ber blew up to 76 per cent. In other words, three out of ev­ery four Cana­di­ans owned a smart­phone last year.

These de­vices have changed the way we work. To­day, the of­fice fol­lows many peo­ple wher­ever they go and meets them wher­ever they are.

A 2014 study con­ducted at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia found peo­ple who con­stantly scan their email through­out the day are more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence higher lev­els of stress and ten­sion. It sug­gests that lim­it­ing the fre­quency of check­ing email to three times a day re­duced daily stress. The av­er­age per­son checks email around 15 times a day.

Some have ar­gued smart­phones are ad­dic­tive by de­sign. Tris­tan Har­ris, a former prod­uct philoso­pher at Google and now a founder of the Time Well Spent move­ment calls it the “slot ma­chine in your pocket.” He looks at how tech­nol­ogy hi­jacks our psy­cho­log­i­cal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. He writes that the av­er­age per­son checks their phone about 150 times a day.

Gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion like what we’re see­ing in France is wel­come, but un­for­tu­nately, it’s never go­ing to be the only an­swer.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.