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Should employees be entitled to the right to disconnect? Should companies be banned from sending you emails or setting you tasks out of work hours? Or is this bad for business? Let’s discuss this debate in today’s episode!

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  • To disconnect (v) – to stop being connected to the internet, phone line, or something similar
    • Sometimes I need to disconnect from the internet for a few days
  • To disengage (v) – to stop being involved in something, or to stop someone being involved in something.
    • The children refused to disengage from their game.
  • Work-life balance (n) – the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.
    • It can be difficult to get the right work-life balance.
  • To blur (v) – to make the difference between two things less clear, or to make it difficult to see the exact truth about something
    • This film blurs the line/distinction/boundary between reality and fantasy.
  • Boundary (n) – the limit of what someone considers to be acceptable behaviour.
    • Try to show love while respecting each other’s boundaries.
  • Task at hand (n) – the work someone is doing now.
    • Let’s concentrate on the task at hand.
  • Policy (n) – a set of ideas or a plan of what to do in particular situations that has been agreed to officially by a group of people, a business organization, a government, or a political party.
    • They believe that Europe needs a common foreign and security policy.
  • Middle ground (n) – a position between two opposite opinions in an argument, or between two descriptions
    • The UN peace envoy has failed to find any middle ground between the government and the opposition parties.

The Right to Disconnect

Last week, during a session of my conversation club, we were discussing well-being and mental health. As I listened to the amazing conversations and interacted with many of you listeners and followers, I noticed a common theme – work causes a lot of stress.

In particular, listeners from Japan, Turkey, Poland, Italy, Brazil, and Colombia all complained that work was a major cause of stress and anxiety. I heard some people would officially finish work at 5pm or 6pm, but stay at the office until past 9pm. I heard that others would reply to emails after midnight, write reports in their free time, and attend meetings at the weekend.

While it is often expected in some companies, industries, and cultures that you should work hard and long hours… should this be the case? Should all of us be entitled to the right to disconnect?


What is the Right to Disconnect?

The right to disconnect is a concept that refers to an employee’s right to disengage from work-related communication and demands outside of their regular working hours.

It is the idea you shouldn’t need to reply to emails after you leave the office; you should be able to log off your computer and forget about work until tomorrow; and that your boss or company shouldn’t be allowed to give you extra work or schedule meetings outside of your work hours.

Behind the concept of the right to disconnect is the importance of a work-life balance. People need to be able to balance their work and personal lives – but sometimes work can seep into all parts of our lives. Is it fair for employees to be constantly thinking about their jobs?

Technology has changed the way we work, blurring the lines between work and personal life. In the past, once you left your office you were effectively disconnected from work, but with the rise of smartphones and other mobile devices, employees are increasingly expected to be available for work-related communication all the time.

I’m sure many of you listening have received an email or slack message from your company or boss at an unreasonable time. Or if you have a work computer at home, there is often an expectation that you can finish your work after your hours have technically ended.

Moreover, as a result of the pandemic millions of people began working from home and work culture around the world has changed. Remote and hybrid work has become a much more normal and common situation. Working from home, however, makes it really easy to mix your personal and professional lives.

There are growing concerns about the impact of work-related stress and burnout on employees’ mental health and well-being. Employees not having the ability to switch off from work-related communication outside of their regular working hours is clearly unhealthy. We all need to have time to rest and recharge outside of work.

For employees, the right to disconnect means that they have the right to disconnect from work-related communication outside of their regular working hours without fear of punishment. It recognizes that employees have a life outside of work and that they need time to rest and recharge in order to maintain their well-being.

For employers, the right to disconnect means that they should establish clear policies and guidelines around electronic communication outside of working hours. This includes setting expectations around response times, ensuring that employees have time to disconnect and rest outside of work, and ensuring that employees are not punished for not responding to work-related communication outside of their regular working hours.

The importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance and allowing employees to have time to rest and recharge outside of work has been recognized by several countries around the world through the implementation of the right to disconnect. France was the first country to introduce legislation acknowledging this right in 2016, requiring companies with more than 50 employees to establish specific hours during which employees are not expected to respond to work-related communication. Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the Philippines followed suit with laws and policies mandating negotiations or codes of conduct for the use of digital devices outside of working hours.

Should we Have the Right to Disconnect?

The right to disconnect is being discussed more and more. As the lines between professional and personal life become increasingly blurred (thanks to remote work and technology), there is a growing push for the right to disconnect to be considered a real human right.

On the other hand, business and industry groups are pushing back against the idea.  They argue it could reduce efficiency and harm business interests.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of the right to disconnect!

Pros of the Right to Disconnect

There are several advantages to disconnecting from work.

Disconnecting from work can improve mental health, as research shows that long working hours and constant connectivity can lead to burnout and increased stress levels. A study from the University of California found employees who check their emails outside of work hours had higher levels of stress. Making sure people’s free time is uninterrupted can reduce their stress levels and enhance their overall mental wellbeing.

When employees are constantly connected to work, they may feel overwhelmed and anxious, which can negatively impact their ability to be productive and creative. By disconnecting, employees can give their minds a break and come back to work with a clearer head.

Disconnecting from work can help achieve better work-life balance. If employees are always connected to work-related communication, it can be challenging to separate their personal life from their work life. By setting clear boundaries around work communication outside of working hours, employees can create a better balance between their work and personal lives.

The right to disconnect could also boost productivity. When employees have time to rest and recharge outside of work, they are more likely to return to work feeling refreshed and motivated, which can result in better performance and increased productivity. And, from the other perspective, Stanford University found that the productivity of employees who work more than 50 hours a week falls dramatically.

Constantly checking work-related communication can be distracting and make it difficult for employees to focus on the task at hand. Without having to worry about work, employees can focus on other activities without the distraction of work-related communication. This can help employees be more present in the moment and improve their ability to focus when they return to work. And it could enhance creativity, as it allows employees to take a break from work-related tasks and potentially come up with new and innovative ideas.

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Cons of the Right to Disconnect

On the other hand, there are some potential negatives and arguments against the right to disconnect.

One of the potential negative effects is that it could reduce the availability of employees outside of working hours. This could cause delays in important decisions or communication, especially in industries where round-the-clock availability is necessary.

Of course, simple tasks and routine activities should be done in normal work hours. And we can’t expect employees to respond or acknowledge every email sent after work hours. However, some industries, companies, and businesses operate in multiple time zones. They may need, on occasion, to contact people outside of normal work hours – especially during emergencies.  

The right to disconnect could reduce the flexibility of businesses to respond quickly to changes in the market or to address urgent issues, as employees are not expected to check work-related communication outside of working hours.

Another potential consequence of the policy is an increase in workload for those employees who remain connected outside of working hours. It could potentially increase stress for employees who feel pressure to respond to work-related communication outside of working hours, even if it is not required. If businesses are not able to respond quickly to urgent issues due to the right to disconnect, it could also cause stress for employees who are responsible for addressing those issues during working hours.

There are also some negatives for employees too, not just employers. They might miss out on networking opportunities, chances to take on additional projects, or connect with colleagues, which could help them advance in their careers.

Additionally, if employees are not expected to be available outside of working hours, it could limit their visibility within the organization, potentially harming their chances for promotion or advancement.

Some companies that have experimented with the right to disconnect faced challenges. For example, in 2011, Volkswagen stopped work-related emails from being sent to employees’ phones between 6 pm and 7 am, which was well-received by employees and the media. However, concerns were raised that the policy could limit the flexibility of employees who worked different schedules or in different time zones.

Similarly, in 2014, Daimler implemented a policy that allowed employees to automatically delete emails received while on vacation, which was seen as a step forward for work-life balance. There were concerns that employees who used the auto-delete feature may miss important information or opportunities.

And in 2021, Google announced that it would be implementing a policy that allowed employees to block out certain times on their calendar for personal time, and colleagues would be unable to schedule meetings during those times. While the policy was viewed positively for work-life balance, there were concerns that it could limit collaboration and make it more difficult to schedule meetings across different time zones.

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Balancing the Right to Disconnect with Business Needs

While the right to disconnect has several potential benefits for employees, companies must also balance these benefits with their operational needs. The world needs to find a middle ground between disconnecting from work and the needs of the business.

Companies should create clear policies around the use of work-related communication outside of working hours. It should be really clear when you are expected to work, what urgent communication is, and when you should be available. At the same time, the majority of communication should take place during work hours – do all the emailing, scheduling, and set all deadlines during the workday.

Companies should also lead by example.  Companies should encourage a healthy work-life balance and senior managers should also be disconnecting from work-related communication outside of working hours themselves.

Why is it important to set expectations and boundaries for the right to disconnect? It reduces uncertainty, enables effective planning, supports a work-life balance, and improves communication.

And some companies have had very successful disconnection policies. According to Volkswagen, the policy they introduced in 2011 has been successful in improving work-life balance and reducing stress levels among employees. The dating app Bumble give employees an extra week off every year to disconnect from work, and they report it has improved employee well-being.

Finding the right balance is beneficial to both employees and companies!


Final Thought

Over the past few years, with changes in technology and the increase in remote working, the right to disconnect is being talked about more and more. Should employees be expected to always be contactable and able to work? Or should companies be banned from communicating out of work hours.

Industries and businesses need to find a middle ground – making sure that businesses can be successful while ensuring their employees are healthy!

What do you think about the right to disconnect?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

One thought on “212. What is the Right to Disconnect? (English Vocabulary Lesson)”
  1. Hi Tom. I discovered your podcasts on Spotify a few days ago. Since then I have listened to you every day. I have to say that you do a very good job. This article about the right to be disconnected concern me. I work as an officer in the Czech Republic. Our department must be available constantly. Our boss expects it and there is no excuse. In another department, they don’t have to. Sometimes it is not about the the company, but about the people. I think there should be set some law regulations in the future. This situation is not sustainable. Fear and anxiety about losing a job or a position, because you have a vacation or you are offline, could damage everything. Family, health, dreams.

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