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Should the right to disconnect from work emails be law?

Should the right to clock off from work emails out of hours become law? Should governments be responsible for regulating the right to disconnect? In France, President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party is about to vote through a measure that, for the first time, will give employees the right to log off from work and enjoy, potentially, less stress or a digital burnout.

The OU’s Dr Helen Roby led the Digital Brain Switch research project looking into the blurred boundaries between work and home life – and the issue of whose responsibility it is to manage it.

In response to the voting in France, she says: “The legislation that the French Government is about to vote on giving workers the right to be offline and to not answer emails outside of normal working hours is an interesting step forward. It will no doubt be loved by some and hated by others. What is interesting about this approach is that it is clearly pushing the responsibility of managing work-life boundaries towards the employer.

“As mobile technologies become more ubiquitous, these boundaries between work and home are increasingly eroded. Employees can feel guilty because they are not responding to emails at 10pm when others they work with are. Maintaining these boundaries should be shared with the employer and work colleagues and employee.

The flexible approach

“Whether this should be ingrained in law and how to enforce it are interesting questions. Perhaps a more flexible approach for more flexible ways of working would be more appropriate. But then if a more flexible approach is taken, everyone needs to abide by the agreements.

“If you set up an out of office message, refrain from then replying to emails as this sets up an expectation with your colleagues that you will reply. As a colleague, avoid sending emails late at night, wait to send them in the morning. And as an employer, foster a culture that allows and encourages people to disconnect and have the opportunity to switch off.”

Find out more about the Digital Brain Switch project and what the terms digital housekeeping, digital presence and digital detox mean.

About Author

Robyn is Senior Manager (Social Media Strategy) in Communications. Formerly a newspaper journalist, she is an experienced comms professional now leading the University's multi award-winning Social Media Engagement Team. She likes walking her cocker spaniel, Ralphie, reading crime novels and anything that involves laughing.

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