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Gary Cattermole

The Survey Initiative


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Can you disconnect from the workplace in 2017?


It’s the first part of the new year, a time of fresh promises to improve wellbeing – leave the office on time, spend more quality time with the family and not get so stressed.

However, does your boss continue to email you 24/7? Do you find it tricky to ignore work emails out of hours? Do you find it hard to switch off on holiday?

The French have come up with what would appear to be the ideal solution; a new law to enable employees to disconnect from the workplace. Gary Cattermole, Director of award-winning employee engagement and employee research provider, The Survey Initiative, explains how we can all learn a lesson or two from France’s lead…

On 1 January the French awoke to a new workplace law giving them the right to disconnect from the workplace. The French already enjoy a working week set at 35 hours since 2000 and this is just another step in ensuring the nation’s employees enjoy one of the highest work life balances in Europe.

So how does this new law work?

Companies with more than 50 workers are now obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff are not allowed to send or answer emails, for example from 7pm – 7am.

Naturally this has been met by much praise by the French workforce, who like the majority of us had longed for those prehistoric days when we could simply take the phone off the hook if we wanted to disconnect from the office.

I think it’s more interesting to listen to the minority of workers who now grudgingly turn off their smartphones out of hours to really get an insight into why such a law is overdue. We have a French-based client and early feedback on those not celebrating the law have said – “I want to keep connected with what’s going on”, “my work is my passion and it’s up to me if I want to work late or at home”, “if I don’t do it then someone else will have to do it and I don’t want to let the team down”.

Again at first glance these responses seem reasonable; they’re dedicated staff wanting to do their best. However, when we discussed the issue closer it became apparent that these thoughts have stemmed from being in a culture, where everyone else is connected 24/7, employees are anxious and don’t want to miss out on a promotion if they’re not online, or fear letting their colleagues down on annual leave.

Employees are anxious and don’t want to miss out on a promotion if they’re not online

In France, Orange has supported the government with the ‘right to disconnect’ legislation following an internal review of their own wellbeing culture. They have become one of the first companies to draft their own charter ensuring that their 150,000 employees will not be discriminated for failing to check email out of the office.

They’ve also created practises where all staff members are discouraged from sending messages outside working hours and management are receiving training to move away from an ‘always-on’ culture.

But, can everyone disconnect?

We live in a 24/7 society, where customers want everything at the touch of a button. Some professions require people to work unsociable hours, we get that; however some jobs need people to be on ‘standby’ in case there’s an emergency, for example: crisis management PRs and health and safety officers at nuclear power plants etc.

Companies will have to draft into their charter good working practises that enable this type of personnel to have times/days when they’re on and off duty/sharing the load with other team members.

Of course the workforce aren’t just housed in factories or office complexes, thanks to technology many employees now choose to work flexi time and an increasing number from home. So, special guidance and understanding needs to be taken into consideration for companies employing homeworkers.

Burnout: a twenty first century phenomenon

Since the recession everyone has had to work harder, smarter and faster to keep organisations afloat with reduced employee numbers.

Since 2000 there’s been an increased blurring of the boundaries between professional and personal lives thanks to the rise of smartphones and other technical devices. Naturally this has resulted in a rising number of employees suffering from increased levels of stress, anxiety and ultimately ‘burnout’.

To increase employee wellbeing organisations have introduced a variety of wellbeing programmes to support their employees to gain a better work/life balance. However, some organisations have introduced devices such as FitBit, Nike+ etc to support their employees in developing their levels of fitness and wellbeing which on the surface is a good thing.

But managers now have access to a dashboard of personal facts and stats on each employee, ranging from how much sleep each employee has enjoyed to exercise patterns and weight.

Managers now have access to a dashboard of personal facts and stats on each employee

Some may see this as a positive step forward where an employees’ vital stats, strengths and weaknesses are viewed within an organisation on a par as a football manager, but I can only see this as a step too far, where workers across the globe will demand their right to disconnect from an increasingly technologically switched-on ‘Big Brother-style’ world.  

All wellbeing programmes need to be thought through with full consultation with the team to ensure it’s not received with sceptical eyes.

How to support employees in switching off out of hours:

  • Set a good lead. Managers shouldn’t issue emails, make calls out of hours as it’s setting an unhealthy precedent for working practises.
  • Consider setting-up an email system that is unable to send emails to an employee whilst they are on annual leave.
  • Train managers on what is and what is not acceptable.
  • At appraisals discuss work life balance and consider ways to promote staff achieving their out of hours’ goals too.
  • Don’t contact staff on their holidays. Thank them for their hard work and wish them a wonderful break – those that switch-off and come back revitalised will be full of a fresh zest to help you reach your business goals.
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Gary Cattermole


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