The Right to Disconnect

We can bet that two years ago, very few people had heard of the so-called “right to disconnect”. However, after almost 17 months of lockdowns, restrictions, and remote working for many, most people have a fair idea of what the right to disconnect means and why it is important.

For those working remotely, there is probably a 50/50 split between those that embraced it and those that could not wait to get back to the office. However, even those that embraced the new way of working want to work their allotted hours – not all the hours.

The EU recently voted to bring forward legislation to encourage employers to allow employees and contractors the right to disconnect. The UK will be rightly tempted not to follow this and hope to gain a commercial advantage from working longer hours. However, all the evidence points to decreasing productivity and increased absence when workers are always on and not away from work at any time.

The productivity puzzle has been the increasing number of tools to work more efficiently, but productivity stays still, not budging. This is because most humans have a limit – always being available and effectively always at work means there is no rest. So please do not fall for the work ethic myth of millionaires and billionaires – they got there by making others work harder while they worked smarter.

As part of this push to disconnect comes the push for a 4-day week. The 4-day week is gaining traction even in that bastion of macho work hours, the US. The simple reason is that it increases productivity and reduces absence.

The push to disconnect is not to make communication impossible with employees – it is to encourage employers not to send direct or round-robin emails or messages outside work hours.

This reminds me of the vice-chancellor of a well-known UK university who thought it was ok the send a round-robin email to all staff on a sunny Sunday afternoon. This was pre-Covid, and many people were rightly spending it with family, friends, having BBQs and the odd drink or two. Unfortunately, a relatively junior member of staff replied along the lines of, “…why am I receiving this ****ing crap on a Sunday….”

Unfortunately, the individual hit reply all, so the rest of the university received his fairly direct response – no doubt to cheers. Of course, the original message may have been written a few days earlier and intended to go out on Monday; it could have been sent or queued in error. If, however, it was none of these things, the overworked staff member could be said to have replied appropriately.

This true story neatly sums up the daily and weekly right to disconnect. Employees should be able to log off from work daily and at weekends, or whenever they have their days off – this should not be controversial; it should be common sense.

The fact that we may need legislation regarding this proves that many managers should not be managing at all.