New Brunswick·World of Work

'The right to disconnect' and other worthwhile conversations

When employees and their bosses have the 'disconnect conversation,' how about a chat about other grey zones, so employees aren't left to wonder whether they're on the right or the wrong side of the bosses' expectations.

Annual chat with the boss about expectations offers a chance to bring clarity to several issues

On Jan.1, the French government instituted sweeping changes governing workplaces in France.

Although the aim of the new law was to provide employers with greater flexibility in relation to their workforce, the "right to disconnect" provisions seem to have attracted a lot of attention.

The law requires employers to make their expectations clear to employees once a year with regard to sending and receiving work emails and phone calls outside regular work hours.

France now requires employers to have an annual conversation with employees about disconnecting after work hours. (Free Images)
France is the latest jurisdiction to recognize that leaving the office doesn't necessarily mean leaving work, given the technology at our disposal.

Several global companies, mostly emanating from Europe, made headlines in the last few years by banning emails after normal working hours, automatically rerouting emails away from the inboxes of employees on vacation, and in some cases shutting down email servers outside office hours.

There is mounting evidence that frequent email checking, both at work and especially after work, can be a source of unhealthy stress. The intentions of most employers and governments that are instituting policies or laws around disconnecting are doing so in the best interests of creating a healthier work environment and in so doing, healthier and ultimately more productive employees.

Mixed results for email bans

Though well-intentioned, the email bans met with mixed results. Many employees enjoyed informal and flexible work arrangements with their supervisors, leaving work early, for instance, to tend to family matters and reconnecting after their family duties ceased in the evening. An email server shutdown was in fact hurting their attempts at work-life balance.

Whether employees are checking their email off the clock because they have been asked to, because they simply like being on top of things, or struggle to tear themselves away, I applaud the new French law for instituting an annual disconnect conversation. That makes much more sense to me than shutting down email servers and the like, which considerably hampers the ability of employees and supervisors to craft flexible work arrangements that serve both their interests.

While many commented that such approaches are less likely to find themselves in law or even in policy in North America, I really like the idea of a mandated annual conversation to clarify expectations and assumptions.

Other things to talk about

So while employees and their bosses are having the disconnect conversation, why not add a few more items that would be in each of their best interests to check in on at the very least once a year.

How about a chat around everything else that falls into grey zones and has employees wondering whether they are on the right or the wrong side of the bosses' wishes and expectations? If an employee is spending time wondering about such things or making assumptions because of a lack of clarity, there is wasted energy, potential anxiety and, most important, time spent in doubt that could be put to much more productive use.

In my experience performance and behaviour often deviate from expectations because we don't take the time to ensure the boss and employee are on the same page. So how about instituting an annual (at the very least) chat about:

  • Other elements of flexible arrangements that may serve you both.
  • How you can best meet each other's needs in the way you work together.
  • How to stay connected on rapidly shifting priorities.
  • A keep/stop/start activity where the boss and employee look at several things they do together and agree on which ones they should keep doing, which ones they should stop doing, and what else should they start doing to make the best of their relationship and meet their objectives.

Some of these items find their way into performance reviews or ongoing check-ins, but from the many comments I receive, lots of expectations and assumptions are never discussed.

It's still early in the new year, so how about reconnecting with the people around you to talk about how you work together. I would advise that if you are to convene the meeting by email you do it during office hours. 

About the Author

Pierre Battah

Human resource management consultant

Pierre Battah is Information Morning's Workplace Specialist. Battah & Associates is a management consulting firm specializing in Human Resource Management.