Helping Employees Disconnect from Work in the Digital Age

Do your employees have trouble disconnecting from work? Are they logged on to workforce systems at all hours of the day and night? Do they answer emails while on vacation or over the weekend?

In the era of smartphones, tablets and Apple watches, everyone has information at the touch of a button or tap of a screen. This includes work information, and many employees have trouble disconnecting from their jobs outside of standard work hours. Employees can find themselves sending e-mails, attending Skype meetings or completing assignments after normal work hours or even while they are on vacation.

24/7 Workforce Problems

On the one hand, employers may be happy to see their employees working extra time. They may think it shows great commitment to the organization and are reassured that they can count on their employees any time they need them.

However, having your employees available and ready to work 24/7 can be a problem for both employers and employees. For employers, it may result in wage and hour violations and distracted driving claims. Meanwhile, employees who are connected to work all the time may have trouble with:

  • Stress;
  • Burnout and productivity problems;
  • Lack of work-life balance; and
  • Health issues.

The expectation of being available 24 hours a day through digital means can be especially detrimental to workaholics. Workaholics may stay late every day, take work home with them and work even while on vacation. While a workaholic may seem like an ideal employee at first, this behavior leads to stress and burnout, which may eventually render the employee unable to work.

Vive la France

Being unable to disengage from work after hours appears to be becoming more of a workforce issue, and France is leading the charge in helping workers disconnect from work. Employees in France now have, in principle, a legal “right to disconnect.”

Although this right is not precisely defined by French law, it gives workers an implied entitlement to stop contact with work through computer-based technology outside of working hours. This means employees could choose not to read or respond to work-related e-mails or decide to switch off their work smartphones.

However, the way this right to disconnect is implemented is mainly left to negotiation and consultation at the level of individual employers.

First Stop France, Next NYC?

While France is often at the forefront of employee rights and protections, its novel approach may be spreading across the Atlantic. New York City is currently considering a bill that would provide its workers with a right to disconnect as well.

The bill, if passed, would prohibit private New York City employers with 10 or more employees from requiring their employees to access work-related electronic communications outside of their usual work hours, except in cases of emergency.

Employers would be required to adopt a written policy addressing employee use of electronic devices to send or receive emails, text messages, or other work-related digital communications outside of work hours. Such a policy would have to provide the usual work hours for each employee class and the categories of paid time off to which employees are entitled (e.g., vacation, personal and sick days), which would all be considered non-work hours.

However, there would be some exceptions to the New York City law. For instance, it would not apply to:

  • Employees required to be on call 24 hours a day (on days when they are working);
  • Certain employees in work study programs;
  • Certain scholarship recipients; and
  • Independent contractors.

The bill also includes a notice of rights obligation and contains provisions outlining retaliation protections and when employers might be subject to potential fines. A New York City employer could potentially face fines ranging from $50 to $2,500 per violation.

Now the bill, if passed, wouldn’t prevent employees from working outside of work hours. It is only designed to prohibit employers from retaliating against those who decide to disconnect from work.

Benefits of Digital Detoxing

Even if right to disconnect laws don’t become a trend in the US, employers should still make sure they are taking into account the work-life balance of their employees. This includes addressing issues that arise because technology has made it possible for employees to work day and night.

One action an employer could consider taking to encourage its employees to disconnect from work is promoting the benefits of digital detoxing. According to Wikipedia, a digital detox “refers to a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic connecting devices such as smartphones and computers.” Encouraging such behavior could be good for employees and result in:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety;
  • Higher productivity during work hours;
  • Burnout prevention; and
  • More focus on social interaction and activities.

How does your organization handle employees who have trouble disconnecting from work? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


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