In France, President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party is about to vote through a measure that will give employees for the first time a “right to disconnect”. Soon companies of more than 50 people will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours – normally in the evening and at the weekend – when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails. It is an imitative that has been in the pipeline for months now and was globally mocked as a socialist move. There exist several press images of Government Inspectors snooping on industrious and hard work workers. It was largely panned as a move that intervened into the private lives of dedicated employees and growing industries that are making their break in a competitive environment. However, is it really as silly as it sounds?
The last 25 years has been dominant by great and rapid change. The internet and ease of access to various modes of communication has shrunk the world and has brought people together. However, as the proverbial saying goes, every positive is usually accompanied with a negative, the digitalisation of communication and transfer of information has significantly impacted the life of the employee. Use of laptops, smart-phones and internet is now a universal phenomenon and almost every working person has access to both. It also means access to e-mails is now prevalent 24/7 as opposed to 8 hours a day at the office before the technology explosion.
Impact of Technology Explosion
All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant. Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails – they colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.
With the technology explosion there is now a real threat to the personal life of an employee. When you’re home, you’re not really at home and this poses a great danger to relationships. There is tremendous physical, psychological and emotional distress caused by a total inability to rest.
A survey by industry lobby Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India in 2012 showed that due to demanding schedules and high stress levels, nearly 78% of corporate employees in India sleep less than six hours a day, leading to severe sleep disorders. The survey pointed out that 21% of the people in the sample suffered from depression, the third most prevalent lifestyle disease, ahead of high blood pressure and diabetes.
The ‘So What’?
India is a country notorious for the little regulation in favour of professionals and graduate employees (anyone that is not a labourer). This has led to incredibly high work hours, working weekends, increased stress and discomfort in personal relations due to all of the above. It’s very evident that the employers have to take initiative on controlling the work hours of employees and ensuring that their employees remain stress free. A conscious and concerted effort to ensure that there is minimal work related communication off-work hours will go a long way in not only relieving the employee of work stress but also in improving his/her work creativity and efficiency.
A regulation like what is being passed in France will not be passed in India unless there is a serious uprising from the working class regarding work stress. This is an under-current of unhappiness at the workplace which does not get communicated to those charged with governance as there is a reluctance to speak about it. There is apprehension as to how it would be construed. However, as the adage goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Unless there is some noise made about it, it will continue to remain in a state of state decisis. Even if regulators fail to take notice, employers will take notice and will encourage activities for the welfare of their employees.