“Right to Disconnect” – A Matter of Culture or FOMO?!

Two days ago, a letter I wrote to our local daily The Straits Times was published.

In it, I supported a labour politician’s recent call that our nation’s leaders put in place a “Right to Disconnect” Law, such as what’s found within the “El Khomri” Law in France, as well as in several countries worldwide like Belgium, India, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Québec, Spain and the USA.

Objective? To grant workers in these nations the right to ‘disconnect’ from work after official hours without repercussions to their jobs.

But is legislation enough?

young ethnic woman trying to work at home with active children
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

To me, whether these countries successfully implemented their disconnect law or not is beside the point. What’s evident is that the wheels for this particular “justice vehicle” is clearly in motion all around the world in recent times, likely exacerbated this year by Covid.

Yet as I publicly supported the push for such a law in Singapore, I also wondered: how effective is legislation alone?

Most employers here, especially those who own small and medium-sized enterprises, would most likely resist and find ‘creative’ ways around the law. These bosses can’t help it, or so they’ll have you know.

After all, they are driven entrepreneurs, unstoppable risk-takers and corporate high-flyers. Material success, status achievements and award recognitions are their drugs.

This connected digital era we now live in only encourages such folks to fester and grow!

The harsh reality is that nothing short of a life-and-death crisis befalling them or their family and staff (touch wood), would jolt these short-term gainers out of their insipid and narrow-minded obsessions with jobs to be done, and bottom-lines to be won.

Having worked in such setups before and interacted with several entrepreneurs, I know this to be true first hand.

But enough about them. They don’t form the majority of the workforce anyway, and they’re too far down their own rabbit holes to be easily extricated and rescued. Nor do many of them think they need rescuing.

So let’s look instead at the majority: the employees.

What about culture, customs & climate?

Photo by The Business Times Singapore.

A friend responded yesterday to my letter by saying this:

“It’s cultural, Kel. When i (sic) worked in Australia, working after hours was a symptom of your own inefficient use of time or your manager piling too much on your plate. In Asia, overtime is a sign of a hardworking and dedicated employee.”

Certainly sounds like an apt description of us here in this part of the world. Another friend also remarked:

“It’s so true about how the boundary lines are so blurry when people have to work from home. It’s like no day and no night.”

In my 25 years of working, I’ve seen my fair share of those who pull all-nighters. And I’m guilty of that too in my younger days, though if you accused me then, I would have played the victim’s card!

I’ve also seen those who would always appear ready and available for anything their bosses throw at them day or night.

Now back to the first friend:

“I have not disconnected since I started work in my 20s because I have mainly been in operations which is 24/7. So I am used to working on weekends, or on leave.”

Sounds like the nature of the industry and the work environment (customs and climate) will dictate the working culture employees face daily. And if everyone where you work is like that, and everyone’s accepted it as the norm, then who would dare change the script?

Let’s face it: you don’t get to be in the ‘safe’ majority, by being a maverick!

IMHO, it’s FOMO!

man in black shirt and gray denim pants sitting on gray padded bench
Photo by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

But whether it’s the law of the land, or the punishing pace dictated by CEOs, cultures, customs or climate, I believe people just fear missing out!

They fear
…losing their jobs.
…being seen as a non-team player.
…looking incompetent.
…losing out to rival colleagues for opportunities and promotions.
…appearing irresponsible and unprofessional.
…giving up their career and ambition.

All because they don’t respond to work calls/texts/messages/emails outside of official work hours.

Pause for a moment and consider that.

I mean seriously.

You don’t think there’s anything wrong with that last statement?!

C’mon people, speak up & exercise your right!

silver colored microphone
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Ultimately, it’s employees like you and me who are guilty of contributing to toxic work environments everywhere.

Our FOMO has spurred governments to implement such Right To Disconnect laws because they see how it’s having devastating effects on the physical and mental well-being of every country’s most precious resource: the people.

Perhaps the parting remarks below from a few other friends who responded to my letter offer some hope that all’s not yet lost.

That if we draw the line clearly and stand up for ourselves now, we won’t need such a law at all!

  • “I don’t feel guilty not checking emails over the weekend and end work punctually. I can wait till the next morning or Monday to reply and don’t feel guilty” (GB)
  • “I occasionally have to tell team members to stop contacting colleagues over weekends. Initially it was difficult, but if you insist, it can be done.” (SL)
  • “The way I see it is, this is no different from managing stakeholder expectations in a workplace or managing bosses. It’s about having the right to disconnect, and to gives (sic) employees the protection and legitimacy. As well as a reminder to employers to actively manage the work-from-home culture.” (PW)

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