Students weigh in on law granting ‘Right to Disconnect’ from work emails after hours

Students working in the Student Union lounge.  (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

In a world of heavy smartphone use, nearly everyone can relate to constant notifications and the “ping” signaling the arrival of another email in their inbox. This year, French employees gained a legal privilege through the “Right to Disconnect” law, which grants them the ability to put their work emails aside outside of normal business hours.

It specifically targets companies with 50 or more employees and makes policies limiting work-related technology use after hours a legal requirement, according to UConn Today.

The law was created in an effort to reduce “work-related stress” and “employee burnout.”

Professor Lucy Gilson at the UConn School of Business reflected on the feasibility of a law like this and whether or not this is realistic for every profession.

Gilson acknowledged there are certain professions, such as in the medical field, where it is difficult for employees to disconnect at a specific time each day due to being on call many hours.

“I think everybody can have a time when they can disconnect [but] it’s not the same for everyone,” Gilson said.

Professor Robert Bird of the UConn School of Business said the right-to-disconnect policy could be more difficult for professionals without a set schedule.

“It works for a large number of professions where employees go to work at a specific time and leave at a specific time and their demands are no longer necessary until they return,” Bird said.

Both Bird and Gilson said there isn’t currently a policy or bill in progress that would bring a similar law to the United States. Having a right to disconnect at the federal level may be highly unlikely, Bird said.

“I would predict that if this right to disconnect would be promising or fruitful, it would bear fruit at the state or local level,” he said.

It is important for individuals to disconnect from work whether there is a legal requirement or not because a certain amount of relaxation and time to recharge is necessary, according to Bird.

“There’s a lot of research on creativity and innovation that show people need incubation time – a time when they are not directly thinking about a problem but it’s still processing in the back of [their] mind,” Gilson said.

It is better for people, when faced with a task, to have the time to take a break and then return to it when their mind has been recharged, according to Gilson.

 

“When [the task] gets done, it actually may be done better if you’ve had more time to think and process it rather than just reacting and doing something right away, quickly,” Gilson said.

While many people believe disconnecting has to do with devices exclusively, Gilson stressed the importance of incubation.

“We’re so focused on the device piece of it, but there actually are a lot of benefits to incubation and thinking about things and not just reacting,” Gilson said.

Students also feel the pressure of responding to emails related to work and academics during their downtime.

“Students, as well as professionals, often have difficulty separating themselves from work and constantly check their smartphones or other media,” Bird said.

Jess Massey, an eighth-semester communication major at UConn said she’s stressed by having to consistently check her email.

“I have it open on my computer so I kind of just look for notifications and so I pretty much check it all day, and when I get home I still check it on my phone all night,” she said.

Richelle Gray, a second-semester biomed engineering student at UConn said she receives between 40 and 50 emails a day and it is overwhelming.

“It’s kind of a lot and I don’t like it but it’s something I need to check in order to keep updated for my classes,” Gray said.

She said she tries to give herself the chance to disconnect on weekends by finishing her homework on Thursdays and Fridays.

“It makes coming back to school or work easier, and it gives you a whole new mindset,” Gray said.

Massey said she would be supportive of students and professors not having to check their emails over the weekend.

“I feel like that’s your time to kind of get away,” Massey said.

When students or employees take the time to disconnect, it is beneficial to their own health, but it means they will also be more productive at work, Gilson said.

“There are some real benefits for employees and companies,” Gilson said.

There are different ways people can take the time to disconnect in their personal lives.

“I keep my phone away from where I’m sleeping, if it all possible and I keep my phone separate from me and charged when I’m doing other things,” Bird said. “So if I really need it, I have to go up and get it, and that time barrier will keep me from instinctually doing it.”

While it may be more difficult for some professions, such as doctors, to designate specific disconnecting times, most people have the ability to disconnect themselves from work.

As Gilson pointed out, “Most of us in this world are not saving babies.”


Amanda Campanaro is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at amanda.campanaro@uconn.edu.