Last week, new legislation was passed in France that prohibits a company of 50 employees or more to send out emails after hours. French employees are banned from sending and receiving emails outside of normal work hours as well. The new provision, which has been called “the right to disconnect” is based on an acknowledgment that 24/7 accessibility takes a toll on our health, family, and relationships.
I was given my first Blackberry when I was promoted to VP of Sales for a national company in 2004. I remember my colleagues referring to my new device as a ‘crackberry’. They were warning me that I would quickly discover the addictive consequences of having 24/7 accessibility to people and information. At the time, I thought the Blackberry was truly a remarkable gift. But of course, I soon shared their concern that this accessibility was a double edged sword and one that would feed my own tendency to be a workaholic.
Why is it so difficult to disconnect?
First and foremost, it’s not possible to disconnect in our current workplace culture. Over a decade ago, Joan Williams coined the term “ideal worker” to describe “the face-time warrior”, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night. He is rarely sick. Never takes vacation, or brings work along when he does. The ideal worker can jump on a plane whenever the boss asks. In other words, the ideal worker is accessible around the clock. It’s the ideal worker who gets the special assignments and promotions. They are viewed favorably by a culture that not only encourages but takes advantage of this behavior.
What would the consequences be to our careers to disconnect after hours? Would we be fired? Would we miss out on promotions? The fear of not being available in a culture that demands availability is legitimate. We are rewarded for knowing the most up to date information and penalized for not having it.
Our anxiety of not being “in the know” is palpable. In a Harvard Business Review blog post, Leslie A. Perlow, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, suggests that we may be addicted to success. Perlow’s research is on the underlying motivation of those who work 24/7 and how to modify this hard-to-break behavior pattern. We feel the immediate need to have information to remain competitive and be successful.
Our fixation to being connected is an integral part of our personal lives as well. People are glued to their smartphones and find it extremely challenging to turn them off at night or even during social events. How many of us sleep with our phones by our bedside each night? Many of us can’t even disconnect when driving a car despite the obvious danger.
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