Digital Detox: Daring to Disconnect

T ime to ’fess up. Are you an after-hours email addict?

France’s new “right to disconnect” law has got us thinking. Isn’t it ironic that the country which gave us champagne and croissants has become a champion of moderation? But more importantly: is similar legislation necessary here? And if such legislation were implemented, would it be effective in banishing burnout?

Think about your after-hours email activity. Is checking and responding to emails outside your regular office hours a compulsory part of your job? Or is it just a compulsion? PEPworldwide:nz managing director Kathryn Anda contends that our modern culture’s “urgency addiction” undermines our efforts to maintain a work/life balance. She once worked with a senior executive whose wife would ban his mobile phone from the house when he arrived home at night. “He had to leave his phone in the car, so that he wasn’t distracted around his kids,” she says. “But his wife went looking for him once and found him sitting in his car in the garage checking his emails, simply because he couldn’t stop himself.” In other words, it’s going to take more than legislation to encourage email addicts into rehab.

Guilty as charged? Then let’s stage an intervention. We’ve listed a few pointers below about how to kick the habit of compulsive after-hours correspondence. (It’s not quite twelve steps, but it’s just as effective.)

Take a look at your work culture.

Changes in behaviour must come from the top down, says Anda. She remembers undertaking an analysis of email habits at a large New Zealand corporate a few years ago. They counted the number of emails sent by employees between 5pm one Friday evening and 8am the following Monday morning. And during this one weekend, over half a million emails were sent. “People felt that if their manager had sent it, they had to reply,” she says. “Managers need to think about why they’re emailing employees after hours. If they don’t send a particular email over the weekend, will it really have any significant impact on the business? If it’s urgent, the company policy should be to call the relevant person instead. This way employees know that even if they have received an email, they can assume it’s not urgent and can therefore wait.”

Start small.

Don’t try to go cold turkey. Anda recommends going one night without checking your emails. And then ask yourself: did not checking your emails that evening make any difference at work the next day? Now try switching off on alternate days and build up to disconnecting for an entire weekend. “Just remember to schedule time into your calendar at the start of your work day to check your emails,” she adds.

Enlist support.

Conquering your compulsions isn’t easy. Share your plans with a colleague or friend: they’ll help keep you on the straight and narrow and make celebrating your success so much sweeter.

As with any addiction, says Anda, acknowledging the consequences of your behaviour is an important part of the rehabilitation process. “We have to understand that compulsive email checking at all hours has a significant detrimental impact on our wellbeing,” she says. “And at the same time, it makes little to no difference to our business.” Ultimately, it’s not just about having the right to disconnect. It’s about changing your mindset to believe you are right to disconnect.

Let us know how you get on.