France recently passed a Right to Disconnect bill providing employees the right to ignore work emails after hours without repercussions. Some have applauded the bill saying that it gives workers their personal lives back. Still others are skeptical that the law will really abolish a behavior that has become so conditioned in workers across the world.
Though benevolent in its motivation, the law won’t be successful. And even if it’s somehow successful in France, its D.O.A. in the United States. That’s because this law doesn’t address the real causes that lead to our inability to disconnect.
Only super humans set healthy boundaries. By many accounts, the current U.S. populace is one of the most debt-ridden, addicted, medicated and obese in history. This says a lot about our ability to say “no” and set healthy limits and boundaries for ourselves. That same underlying inability to set boundaries in our relationships with food, money, drugs and alcohol also prevents us from setting healthy boundaries with our work life. If we can access work from our mobile device or laptop, we will answer that work email or take that work call.
The normal 8-5 factory of office job is no longer as the world has transitioned from the Traditional Economy to the Knowledge-Based economy. The boundaries that were once defined for us- punching a time clock and using our hands to make a widget on a factory line- are the way of the dinosaur, extinct. Because most work can be done anytime and anywhere, individuals must rely on themselves to set their own boundaries. Which, as mentioned above, we aren’t good at.
We have been conditioned to be connected. Humans fear disconnection. In Daring Greatly, How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brené Brown writes “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.” Constant connection to work means knowing the latest and greatest, it means coming to work on Monday with no surprises, it means being one step ahead of your colleagues and in many workplaces being connected all of the time is recognized as an admirable trait worthy of public praise and maybe even some additional compensation. Why, with all of this positive reinforcement, would we not want to be connected?