The ‘right to disconnect’

By Joanna Roughton.


A friend of mine has a big job with the NHS.

It involves working in a major teaching hospital and administering a budget running to hundreds of millions of pounds.

She works long days which can often involve back-to-back meetings.

At any time during her working day she may be called upon to make life and death decisions.

At the very least she often has to contend with delicate personnel management issues.

There is little ‘down’ time.

Last week I took my friend for supper. She looked shattered, as well she might. Her home life is loving and supportive. But with young children and a working spouse, home is no holiday camp.

But what really surprised me was the extent to which work intrudes into her home life, especially via emails. As she pointed out, the NHS is a 24-hour operation. However, even she was astonished by the number of emails sent to her overnight recently. On this ‘day’ her inbox received 18 emails between midnight and 6am.

I thought of her when reading reports of a study published in the past few days which showed that office workers are more stressed at home than at work.

The research, published in the latest edition of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, analysed 550 London staff from the French bank BNP Paribas.

The subjects wore wrist monitors to measure heart rates. They suffered ‘spikes’ in their stress levels when they allowed their time at home to be interrupted by work.

Co-author of the study, David Plans, said the culture of always working was “killing people”.

He said: “Dealing with work while at home is pernicious to health and is directly linkable to cardiovascular disease. That is now measurable and before it was not.”

The French, as you may know, have introduced a law to stop this happening. The ‘right to disconnect’ came into effect on New Year’s Day.

It obliges companies with more than 50 workers to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours staff are not supposed to send or answer emails.

The French economy is far from perfect. The country’s 35-hour working week has been widely pilloried and unemployment is forcing a growing number of Frenchmen and women to find jobs in the UK, where the hours are longer, but vacancies exist.

But when it comes to the ‘right to disconnect’ the French have surely hit upon an important intervention.

Technology has a pernicious ability to chip away at our personal space, to penetrate the peace of our homes, without ever really seeking our permission.

In a sense it was easier in the days when someone taking work home apologised to the children before salting themselves away in the study for an hour.

Now the smarthphone means that mummy or daddy may appear to be ‘present’, but as they glance at their device, their mind is actually elsewhere.

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