The right to disconnect

This year in France a new law was accepted regarding the right of employees to be disconnected from email and all kind of message systems after working hours [1,2].

I would like to link that law with email stress effects on the human psyche. Numerous studies have been performed that determine the level of stress caused by email [3,4,5]. A new email might represent a decision to take, a problem to solve, news of any kind, that translates into anxiety and therefore into stress. If you multiply this by the total number of daily solicitations an employee might have, the level of stress might rise. The impact can be seen in productivity and most importantly on individual’s health.

Technology allows us to be connected in a ubiquitous way, which it has both advantages and drawbacks. On the positive side, it allows dynamic and agile communications. On the negative side, it difficult individuals to detach from that constant information flow.

Balance is defined as “a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions” [6].  In this context, the new French law is a good beginning to initiate a significant change. However, if employees disconnect, we can encounter additional stress factors that do not move towards a balance. For example, an employee that does not check his or her emails the evening after work, might find the following day, a higher number of pending emails to read, that will need to be processed either way.

One of the main points that are important to consider is not just to grant the right to disconnection but also to tackle one of the sources of the issue, which is information generation. Efforts should be directed to reduce unnecessary flow of information and to transfer email or messages when really required. For that extend, technology can also be both the cure and the disease. For example, by using artificial intelligence techniques to filter and classify messages, but also to take actions in behalf of employees whenever possible. That will help to reduce the human participation for non-important message exchanges, and allowing an effective and efficient temporal disconnection.