On January 1, 2017 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 with employees once a year with regards to sending and receiving work emails and phone calls outside of regular work hours.
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 work 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 who 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.
Though well-intentioned, the email bans met with mixed results. Many employees enjoyed informal and flexible work arrangements with their supervisors, for instance leaving work early to tend to family matters given that they later reconnected after their family duties had ceased in the evening. An email server shut down was in fact hurting their attempts at work life balance.
Whether employees are checking emails off the clock because they have been asked to, because they simply like being on top of things and/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 of email servers and the like which considerably hampers the ability for employees and supervisors to craft flexible work arrangements that serve both of 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.
So while employees and their bosses are having the disconnect conversation why not add a few more items that would be in both of their best interest 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 due to lack of clarity, there is wasted energy, potential anxiety and most importantly time spent in doubt that could be put to much more productive use.
In my experience performance and behaviour often deviates from expectations because we don’t take the time to ensure that 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 which ones they should keep doing, which ones they should stop doing and what else should they start doing to make the best out of their relationship and meet their objectives.
Some of these items find their way into performance reviews or ongoing check-ins however 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 and 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.