Right to Disconnect: What is it, and how can it help enhance your productivity?

Governments around the world are introducing the “Right to Disconnect” in an effort to re-sharpen the blurred line between personal and professional life. Have a look.

You Can’t Switch Off

It’s your day off, you’re in your backyard enjoying some delicious barbeque with your family, and suddenly your phone rings. It’s a call from work, and you’re tasked with finishing a presentation by the end of the day. What will you do?

Well, you have two options.

  1. Say yes, and start working on the task immediately
  2. Tell your boss that it’s your day off, and you can’t work on it.

Logically, you should go with number two. After all, it is your day off, isn’t it?

But then a thought hits your mind. What if this reflects poorly on you as an employee? Are you really in a position to say no?

The pandemic changed a lot of things. And one of those changes is that it narrowed the distance between business and non-business hours.

Statistics say that today an average employee puts in an extra 2.5 hours of work per day just because of the unrealistic expectations set in modern workplaces and the fear of repercussions of saying no to an off-hour task. And this is causing some serious problems.

So, here’s a question for you. Should employees be legally protected from repercussions if they said no to an off-hour task?

What is Right to Disconnect?

Right to disconnect” is a proposed human right that lets employees disconnect from work outside of their regular working hours. This means that they can choose not to engage in work-related electronic communications like text messages, calls, and emails during non-working hours without any repercussions.

With a huge number of people working from home on devices issued by their employers, experts are saying that employees are finding it extremely hard to disconnect from work. And as a result, they’re working way more than their regular hours.

So why is this happening?

Besides making our homes and offices the same place, the pandemic also raised people’s availability. This led to many employers throwing in more work at their employees and pushing the boundary of when they can reach out.

And because of not wanting to look unprofessional and the fear of other consequences, employees are putting in more effort than ever to stand up to their employers’ expectations.

And this is what “right to disconnect” works against.

It says that every employee can switch off outside of their normal working hours and enjoy their personal time unless there is an emergency or agreement.

Image by jcomp on Freepik

A recently introduced “Code of Practice for Organizations” in Ireland is an excellent example.

It says:

  • Employees have a right not to perform work-related tasks outside their standard working hours.
  • No employee should be penalized for refusing to attend to work matters during off-hours.
  • Employers must respect their employees’ right to disconnect (e.g., by not routinely emailing or calling outside their working hours).

So, why is being connected after work so bad?

Importance of Work-Life Balance

Statistics say that 52% of the workers in the United States are burned out. That’s a rise of 9% from pre-pandemic.

Researchers link lack of proper work-life balance to physical and mental health problems like obesity, heart disease, chronic sleep deprivation, anxiety, and depression. You just can’t simply ignore a massive chunk of your life and expect everything to go well. Sooner or later, it will start wearing you off, leaving you unproductive and unmotivated.

On the other hand, having a good work-life balance will:

Let You Focus on Your Mental Health

Personal and professional are two different lives, and you need to treat them as such.

According to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, your conscious brain can ignore a huge chunk of your life and be okay with it, but your unconscious brain records everything. And when you keep ignoring your need to feel certain emotions, it can pile up to a point where you lose control.

This can result in violent emotional releases, which can take a serious toll on your mental health.  

Research says that employees who feel overwhelmed or burned out at work are more likely to experience chronic stress, anxiety, mental fatigue, and reduced sleep quality.

This is why burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a larger number of sick leaves, 23% more likely to visit an emergency room, and 2.5 times more likely to look for a new job.

When you focus on keeping a healthy balance between your personal and professional life, you’ll not be ignoring a huge and extremely important part of your life. This, in turn, prevents you from developing all these problems, resulting in you being more happy, healthy, and productive.

Improve Your Physical Health

Studies say that burnout at work increases your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases like ischemic heart disease, myocardial infarction, stroke, and sudden cardiac death.

Besides heart-related conditions, lacking proper work-life balance can cause you to develop problems like type II diabetes, infertility, musculoskeletal problems, and sleep disorders.

Except for some rare scenarios, you can avoid a lot of these by simply capping your work to slightly below 40 hours a week and spending some of your free time being physically active.

Build Stronger Relationships

A 1938 Harvard Study said that “happiness and health aren’t a result of wealth, fame or working hard, but come instead from our relationships.”

importance of social connections
Image Source: https://canainc.org/

The hours we have in a day are extremely limited. So, working long hours or always being connected at work will prevent you from investing quality time in personal relationships. And experts say that, lacking personal relationships can make you prone to developing problems like isolation, loneliness, and even depression.

Be More Productive

The more hours you put in, the less you work, says a research study from Stanford University.

Neurologists say that a stressed and fatigued brain of a burnt-out employee looks the same as that of a person who is sound asleep. So, when your conscious brain is not functioning optimally, you can’t be productive at work.

On the other hand, when you focus on your personal life as much as you do on your professional life, it will actually lead you to get more done at work.

This may also be why employees who take all or most of their vacation time each year can perform at higher levels and are more productive.

What Happens When You Don’t Disconnect?

From mental health problems to weakened relationships, the consequences of staying connected to work at all times are massive. And sadly, it’s even worse for those who work on electronic devices.

Today, a huge number of people suffer from digital sensory overload.

Sensory overload happens when your brain takes on significantly more information than it can handle, resulting in problems like anxiety, stress, panic, and chronic restlessness.

Your brain, especially your subconscious mind that controls your memory, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities, needs a certain amount of downtime. Keeping it busy all the time can cause some major (not so good) changes in both your personal and professional lives.

And besides that, working on electronic devices for prolonged periods will significantly increase your EMF exposure. And there are literally tens of thousands of research studies explaining why that’s a bad idea.

Efforts from the Governments

Seeing how important off time is for employees, many governments around the world are trying to legislate the “Right to Disconnect” so their citizens can have a legal right to maintain a proper work-life balance.

The right to disconnect is majorly a post-pandemic hype. But many countries’ governments had this on their agenda way before the pandemic began.

Implementation Around the World

I already discussed Ireland’s Code of Practice in the section above. And besides Ireland, some other European countries like Spain, France, Belgium, and Italy have also established a statutory “right to disconnect” for employees. And an EU-wide right to disconnect is making its way through the EU parliament. 

Countries like India, Argentina, and the Philippines also have a similar policy setup, while Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Canada have either proposed or considered adopting such a right.

Interestingly, some large companies including Volkswagen in Germany have voluntarily put policies like “disconnect from work” in place and stopped their servers from sending any work-related communication to employees when they’re off the clock.

Some companies have even gone as far as to introduce technologies that forbid people from sending emails in the evening or on weekends. And even if they manage to send it, the mail server will automatically destroy the email if the receiver is not on the clock or on vacation.

Are the Benefits of Right to Disconnect Just Limited to Employees?

Thing is, whenever we talk about the right to disconnect, we only tend to discuss the benefits employees will receive if they were not required to stay connected beyond their work hours. But, the good thing about policies like the right to disconnect is that the benefits are not just limited to employees.

Suppose you’re an employer and choose to allow your employees to rightfully disconnect post-work, regardless of the legislative status. In that case, you can expect to see some of these changes in your organization.

Less Employee Burnout

No matter how brilliant an employee is, everyone has their own breaking point. If the balance between personal and professional life is virtually non-existent, your employees can suffer chronic burnout. It’s not a choice. It’s a psychological phenomenon with no hacks and tricks.

Chronic burnout can cause problems like decreased performance and productivity, increased cynicism towards coworkers and clients, and finally, detachment from the company. All of these are extremely detrimental to the health of any company.

Implementing something like the “right to disconnect” in your office will instead give you high-performing employees with great enthusiasm to take your company to the next level.

Well-Rested Employees Do the Best Work

Neurologists have made it perfectly clear that sleep deprivation has detrimental effects on individuals. Not being able to truly be “off the clock” can make your employees feel like they don’t get a chance to really unwind.

This can result in decreased quality of work, increased mistakes, and missteps that can devastate your organization’s overall effectiveness.

Certainly, a well-rested employee is the best kind of employee that you can have in your company. That’s because, according to psychological studies, proper rest fills individuals with extreme motivation. And as a result, your employees can go full steam ahead when it’s actually time to work.

Respects Employee Privacy

Even though micromanaging and intruding on people’s personal time for work may show success for a while, it’s short-lived.

People love their privacy. When you expect your employees to respond to work demands ‘round the clock, no matter if they’re off-hours or on vacation, it shows a massive disregard for employee privacy.

You’ll get the work done undoubtedly. But leading experts say that this kind of behavior can trigger worker backlash in unexpected ways. This may even trigger employee retention problems, as your employees may start looking for other companies that respect their private time.

Right to disconnect gives employees control over their life. And this, in turn, increases employee loyalty, causing them to perform to their highest standards. And even contribute to improving the company as a whole.

Final Thoughts

Right to Disconnect is undoubtedly a great idea. And even though some kinks need to be addressed, like capping the number of hours may not be the best solution for international companies that work across different time zones, this could help many employees worldwide maintain a healthier work-life balance.

We recently welcomed EU parliament member Alex Aguis Saliba on episode one of season two of “The Healthier Tech Podcast.” 

In this episode, he dives deep into how the right to disconnect regulations could be key to advancing and improving our unhealthy relationship with modern technology. And having worked as both journalist and a lawyer, he helps us look at this concept from multiple viewpoints. 
So, I invite you to join this brilliant episode with EU parliament member Alex Aguis Saliba today, exclusively on “The Healthier Tech Podcast.”

Don't Miss Out

Get the latest content straight to your inbox

R Blank

R Blank

R Blank is the founder of Healthier Tech and the host of “The Healthier Tech Podcast”, available iTunes, Spotify and all major podcasting platforms.

R has a long background in technology. Previously, R ran a software engineering firm in Los Angeles, producing enterprise-level solutions for blue chip clients including Medtronic, Apple, NBC, Toyota, Disney, Microsoft, the NFL, Ford, IKEA and Mattel.

In the past, he served on the faculty at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering where he taught software engineering, as well as the University of California, Santa Cruz.

He has spoken at technology conferences around the world, including in the US, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and he is the co-author of “AdvancED Flex Development” from Apress.

He has an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and received his bachelor’s degree, with honors, from Columbia University. He has also studied at Cambridge University in the UK; the University of Salamanca in Spain; and the Institute of Foreign Languages in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Connect with R on LinkedIn.

Join Our Email List

Get the latest content from Healthier Tech straight to your inbox. Enter your email address below to join our mailing list.