The right to disconnect: towards a questioning of the norm of the “ideal employee”?

Since the 1er January 2017, the Labor law requires companies with more than 50 employees to initiate negotiations on the right to disconnect and provide for mechanisms to regulate the use of digital tools. If no agreement is reached, the employer must establish a charter, after consulting the works council and / or the employee representative bodies.

A world first

This law - a world first - is a response to

“The intensification of work and the excess of professional connections liable to undermine the balance of life, even the health of the company's employees” (Report "Digital transformation and life at work", submitted to the Minister of Labor in September 2015).

It also corresponds to real expectations.

According to a study by Apec at the end of 2014, barely 23% of executives systematically “unplug” once the light in their office is turned off. Almost nine in ten believe that connected tools help make them work outside the company. According to an IFOP survey in May 2016, 77% of executives check their emails, their text messages or answer business calls during their leisure time. A practice which constitutes a stress factor for 48% of them, while 34% believe that it has negative effects on those around them.

A right to disconnect for all employees would therefore potentially bring significant improvements, NICT (new information and communication technologies) having in a few years completely blurred the line between professional and private life for most of the employees. French executives.

In this regard, some companies did not wait for the law to implement regulatory actions (mainly relating to the use of emails), such as Volkswagen Germany, which in 2012 had signed an agreement on the blocking of access to professional smartphones and BlackBerrys from 18 p.m. to 15 a.m., days without email at Canon, or experiments with disconnection application modules at Orange (Orange O'zone).

However, we can deplore the use of the State and the legislative framework to establish a “reasonable” use of digital tools, and to regulate excesses that could be curbed by managerial common sense and self-discipline.

Co-responsibility of the employer and the employee

Knowing how to disconnect is as much about education at the individual level as it is about regulation at the level of the company and its managers. At an individual level, the ability to disconnect depends on each individual's relationship to time, depending on their age, job, level of responsibility, and personality. The ability to disconnect is a skill that must be built in the company and the employee is jointly responsible for determining its rules of regulation and reachability.

At company level, the responsibility for disconnection relates directly to the organization of work and the standards that govern it. Much research draws our attention to the growing gap between the rigidity of our work organizations and the high expectations in terms of flexibility, trust and autonomy on the part of employees. Work has changed: long considered on the basis of a stable triptych (same unity of place, unity of time, unity of action), it is now defined outside the official hours of the activity, outside the place of work and often requires a spirit of initiative that goes beyond existing procedures (Isaac H. and Kalika M., 2001). Awareness and the duty to question these dominant organizational norms, often invisible and unspoken, is a preliminary step in the reflection to be carried out on disconnection within organizations.

The “ideal employee” standard

Among these standards, there is one tenacious one which arouses the interest of many researchers: the standard of the “ideal employee” ("Ideal worker norm" according to Williams, 2001). This standard refers to the most desirable image a company can have of its employees: fully engaged in their work, dedicated to their company and available 24/7.

Indeed, long working hours and hyper-availability are still seen today by many departments as a guarantee of involvement and loyalty. The study of Marianne cooper on the engineers of Silicon Valley, the height of autonomy and flexibility at work, is in this sense very instructive as to the pressure of dominant organizational norms to correspond to the image of the ideal worker. Despite a facade of freedom, engineers cultivate long working hours and lack of sleep as a demonstration of their virility, of their commitment, like heroic activity.

Because, what is at stake in these debates on disconnection is the managerial frame of reference, the implicit codes, presenteeism, the evaluation and recognition of work, access to power, the freedom to act of individuals. … Faced with these developments, French companies, where the hierarchical distance is exceptionally strong, trust still too limited and control by the hierarchy heavy (DARES, 2013), must conduct a deep reflection on these subjects.

The problem is not the right to disconnect, we are probably wrong target by incriminating the tool, the smartphone has never forced an executive to connect. The stake is indeed to depart from the norm of the ideal employee. If the culture of the company and the managerial teams encourages people to invest in work at the expense of other areas of life, the law will be ineffective for our hyperconnected executives (especially since no sanction is foreseen if the negotiations do not succeed or if no charter is published…).

In this context of infobesity and communicative immediacy, reprogramming individual behaviors and redefining managerial practices within organizations has become a real necessity.

The ConversationSabrina TANQUEREL, Professor of Human Resources Management, Normandy School of Management

This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

Read the original article.

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