Being available at all hours is extremely important for many companies, but does this mean that employees have no right to switch off? Why shutting off your Smartphone and going “off the grid” should be allowed.
Honestly, was it necessary to send that last email on Friday at 9:17pm? Could you not have sent that on Monday morning? Wouldn’t it have been nice to give the team a quiet evening to ease into a relaxing weekend? Absolutely not, the mail needed to go out immediately and you need an answer now, the sooner the better! Sound familiar? If so, be happy you’re not working in France! As of the beginning of 2017 a new law has passed guaranteeing the working population the “right to switch off”.
A Blessing and a Curse
The world keeps spinning – the digital world with mobile internet has given us 24-hour access to everything, which is extremely convenient, however it also has its downsides. This is mainly due to the working world and, above all, to young people. Those in Generation Z wish for a clear separation between private life and career. They are striving for security, not necessarily career advancement and more responsibility, and therefore are non-responsive after working hours. Professor Christian Scholz doesn’t see this as necessarily a bad thing, in fact he believes that the demands of the working world are making us sick. Scholz states that it’s natural for every human being to have “recuperation phases”, periods in between working hours where they can reboot, however the demand for constant availability is interrupting these necessary phases. This is leading to burn-outs and even bouts of depression.
The health consequences for constant availability can be seen in numerous studies and real-world examples; the burn-out of Arianna Huffington from 2007 comes to mind. The more work-related opportunities that are introduced into private life, the greater the work-related impairment, e.g. burn-out, stress, feelings of guilt, etc. The benefit of a short-term productivity spike is not high enough with the fallout that inevitably comes. Even when employees are choosing to be available out of business hours, it becomes a slippery slope. They may choose to be available for only one extra hour at first, then that becomes the default. Soon it’s two hours longer that they’re available, etc. This leads to self-inflicted overload, which is no less terrible than that implemented by a superior.
Shutting Down is Good
The new law in France mandating the period to “shut off” is born from precisely this realization that permanent accessibility is a vicious cycle, whether it’s self-imposed or employer imposed. The French Ministry of Labor stated that the purpose of these measures is to ensure that rest periods as well as a balance between work, family and private life are respected. One would think that it’s not necessary to have a law stating this, however it’s an extra protective measure. As a result, not only bosses and executives, but all workers, will now have a larger dose of human understanding and recognize that only rested and recuperated employees can be happy and continuously productive.
Check your Leadership Style
We may have been a bit harsh in our opening managerial example, sorry about that! But what can you, as a fair boss, do to ensure that your employees are not constantly overworked? Graduate psychologist Dr. Bettina Fromm states that, in principle, thinking has to change. Currently, a “burnout” is more associated with passion and expenditure, and is perceived as more acceptable than a depressive period. Additionally, if the boss himself does not take breaks, it will be harder for the employees to implement them for themselves. Executives should therefore support their employees by:
- Leading by good example, that is, take breaks and don’t allow work to make you sick
- Spread overtime on all shoulders – make sure to delegate
- Accept breaks and use the time for recreation, don’t just think about work topics
- During breaks, work materials and subjects should be taboo
- Enable power napping
- Define realistic goals and thus increase productivity and motivation
- Create opportunities to participate in the development of the company
- Develop transparent communication and regular employee discussions on the same level
- Promote occupational health management, e.g. sports and health
- Implement coaching sessions for stress management
By following these tips you won’t have to go all the way to France to have a healthy work-life balance for yourself and your employees.
About the author
Jörg Peter Urbach is the author, editor and blogger of Sprachleidenschaft. He has been writing for more than 25 years, for print and online. Concepts. Stories. Journal articles. After studying musicology and German language and literature, Jörg Peter worked as an editorial manager in the classical music business. As long-time chief editor of the portal wissen.de, he knows how to inspire readers with clever topics.
If the native Kieler is not writing, he is walking through the Alps. Or listening to the opera. With mindfulness.