The dreaded late night email is something that has become all too common in todays connected world. The friend at the bar having to take a work call, or someone canceling plans last minute because something came up at work. While Phones and computers have meant that we can work anywhere, they have also lead to being able to work at anytime.
Although office hours are still stuck at 9-5 the way we work, and the time we work is changing. Not a generation ago once you got home from the office you were hard to contact till the next morning, things just had to wait. But these days, for many, the call could come at anytime.
I remember working in a coffee-shop once, my manager angry at me one day because I was needed to swap to an early shift. I told her, truthfully, that I hadn’t looked at my phone. I’d been at the cinema, switched my phone off and go to bed without turning it back on. This to the other young staff was a preposterous idea and thought of as an outright lie. A 20 something, in this day an age spending even a few hours disconnected from the internet seemed unbelievable. According to my manager, it was my duty to always be reachable and to no be was irresponsible. I was being treated like a fireman, always on call, but in reality I was making overpriced coffees for minimum wage.
So while technology has given us so much, and smart phones connected us all, it’s also blurred to boundaries between office and home life. No longer do things have to wait till tomorrow when with a text here or and email there people can reach you wherever you are.
This makes sense for some people, we live in the globalised world, your clients could be not only in different countries but different continents, meaning different time zones. It obviously is good for productivity and organisation but the question remains, how much of your life doe you owe to your job.
One of the things I liked about the minimum wage jobs of my younger years was the freedom, when I walked out that door the rest of the day was mine, I could leave stress inside the building and my time was my own. When people have careers though, you loose that, like terminal illness it’s something that’s always on the back of your mind.
The right to disconnect then is something that we have to look at in our work culture. France, in particular, has been ahead of the world in establishing legal frameworks protecting a person’s right to disconnect. Back in 2001 the idea was first floated when the French Supreme Court ruled that employees are under no obligation to bring work home, and as technology progressed the Court continued to update its ruling. In 2004, for example, it was established that it was not misconduct if an employee was not reachable on a smartphone outside of work hours.
Several German companies have jumped ahead of the curve, realizing it may be better for overall work culture to self-regulate some of these matters. Volkswagen was first in implementing a company-wide freeze on emails back in 2012. The company set its internal servers to not route email to individual accounts between 6.15 pm and 7 am.
Both culturally and legally the right to be unreachable is spreading. Just as you would talk about salary and hours in a job interview it’s time to start talking about availability. What does the job entail? In short, am I going to be expected to “on” all the time. The bigger question though is why these technologies have become ever present in our lives an why they are becoming increasingly difficult to detach from.