‘The right to disconnect’ in 2017
Dima El Hassan| The Daily Star
In 2017, every job is a tech job. We are living in a world where every second sees 2,603,135 sent emails; 7,670 tweets; 2,655 Skype calls; 69,862 YouTube videos; 790 Instagram photos and 46,139 GB of internet traffic (according to Internet Live Stats).
Although this advanced digital era has made us very interconnected globally, easing our daily life in many ways, it’s creating a “digital tyranny” in a ferocious way to the extent that life in the 21st century becomes inhumanly unappealing.
“Today the digital tools are blurring the boundary between personal and professional lives,” the Human Resources director of the French Telecommunications Company ORANGE revealed in a report to the French government.
With the fact that most employees cannot be disconnected even outside working hours, it is no longer clear when the start and the end of a normal work day are.
Employees leave the office “physically” but they don’t leave their work. “They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash, like a dog” as the socialist lawmaker Benoit Hamon put it in a BBC interview last May. “The texts, the messages, the emails – they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”
To this, France has reacted.
On Jan. 1, 2017, a new labor law came into force, “The right to disconnect,” included in a chapter of Article 25 “The Adaptation of work rights to the digital era.” This right gives legality to French employees to avoid work emails or messages during nonworking hours, knowing that the working hours in France are set to 35 per week since 2000.
French employees are now “legally liberated” from the culture of being “24/7 on.” This “right to disconnect” or right to be “forgotten after working hours” came as a French reply to a worldwide problem.
A 2015 report by U.K.’s Future Work Centre filed that people who check and/or respond to emails and messages in off-hours tend to have higher stress and less work-life satisfaction. It found that work pressure negatively affects home life and in reverse home life negatively affecting work performance. This 21st-century work culture constitutes one of the industrial revolution’s outcomes, whereby the capitalism scored high economic growth over time but with no compatible labor regulations, which explains the current situation of the labor force and productivity globally. And now with the facilities provided by the digital technology and social media in particular, the burden of their usage is distorting the limits between the private and professional life of a millennial.
People’s online behaviors are not also helping in this matter.
An article by MediaPost (June 2016) revealed that around 80 percent of smartphone users check their devices within 15 minutes after they woke up, and a similar percentage for those who keep their devices with them for at least 22 hours per day.
As such, risks that come with such a work culture include lifestyle issues such as burnout, stress, sleeplessness, depression and fatigue along with other health and relationship problems.
Daimler, the German multinational automotive corporation, has allowed its employees since 2014 to delete all emails that they receive while on holiday. Volkswagen turns off its servers after working hours.
Today, companies in France with more than 50 employees are legally compelled to stop emailing workers outside of business hours. They are required to negotiate out-of-office email guidelines with their staff. France’s Labor Ministry says the law is used to create more balance between work and personal lives. It is set to ensure respect for rest periods and vacations as well as personal and family life, based on the belief that excessive job pressure has negative impact on productivity.
Knowledge workers who get enough sleep, leisure and family time have the tendency to think better and be more creative and productive on the long run than “the workaholic worker bees.” As such, according to a video spread by the World Economic Forum (July 1, 2017), the IMF expects the French economy to grow by 1.3 percent in 2017.
Coming to our region and Lebanon in particular, no one can argue that we live in a stressful country with constant internal and external instability with economic, political and security turmoil. With 6.6 percent of the population suffering with depression, we are the sixth most depressed country (according to the United Census Bureau and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Life in Lebanon is undoubtedly stressful leaving people constantly worried about the unpredictable future of their homes, jobs and families. All of these factors add up to the already existing stress that a working millennial is facing today globally.
As such, it has become alarmingly exigent to respond to this “explosion of undeclared work” that is pulling affected people into finding quick accessible refuge in medicaments, substance abuse, alcohol addiction or else through anti-social behavior that can reach violent acts and extremism.
France has responded by enforcing the “right to disconnect” legally. Despite the importance of legislating this right at the policy level, what is more needed is to change the work culture in the mindsets of people, making them realize that productivity is linked to “smart work” not “hard work” and ultimately create the right environment for that.
Until then, it will still be hard for a millennial to be “disconnected.”
Dima El Hassan, director of Programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.