The Right to Disconnect: Will India embrace the Work Culture Shift?

  • Created Date17 Jan, 2019
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I was eating dinner with my family and my phone buzzed. The call was from my then manager. I ignored the call, hoping to let it pass if it was a call by mistake, often not true though. The call jeopardized my situation on the table because I was lecturing my daughter the same moment to shut off TV for meal times. Because I got up to check the phone—mind it, I did not pick the call—she gave me a sly smile.

The merciless phone rang again after ten minutes. The manager apologized but got away with his summon to connect for a meeting the next morning at 8:30 AM. The time was the most inconvenient for me due to the school-bus slot. Not just that, his emails with numerous attachments were waiting in my mailbox to be read, understood and answered. I cursed every possible person and thing and left the joint reading session with my daughter to her freewill burying my head in the laptop.

Does this sound familiar?

With the ever-connected office through smartphones and laptops, will it be easy to implement a bill like “the right to disconnection” in India where most people in authority feel their inheritance to call or text liberally irrespective of the time? Countries like France, Spain and Germany have implemented such bills in their legislation that define the strict working hours.

Let us look in more details about the proposal, impediments in the implementation and aftermath of this policy and if it would be worth a shot in our country.

What is Right to Disconnect?

A proposal that will give the power in the hands of the employees to decide whether to pick an office-related call or answer a mail post working hours. National Congress Party leader Supriya Sule proposed the bill in December 2018 in the Parliament.

The bill demands the companies with more than 10 members to constitute an Employee Welfare Committee to bring this right into implementation and ensure compliance too. For the organizations, it asks them to enlist the reasons of contacting the staff post office timing. For workers, it would bring relief if they have to be always on their toes and are under the pressure to answer every work-related call, message or text. Business groups would still be able to call the staff but if an employee defers addressing the demand, no disciplinary action would be taken.

Who would not like an uninterrupted holiday? Yes, this bill would cover the holidays too.

Image Source: Pexels

Why Right to Disconnect?

The right aims at helping the citizens establish an equilibrium between work and personal life. With the ever-changing employment landscape and demanding jobs, the worn out workforce is constantly anxious to remain connected even if there is no need and keep tapping the refresh button of mailboxes. The stretched working hours have influenced the health physically and emotionally not limited to lower immunity, headaches and sleep problems but consequential to relationships too. The result is not only visible on the staff but their families struggle to mingle and enjoy personal time. Hence, the bill has been proposed.

Hurdles to implement Right to Disconnect in India

1. Muddling mindset

Indian corporate culture has mushroomed the mindset that equates extra effort and stretched working day to productivity and hardship. The employers and employees together should weed out such a hampering tradition. Often, the members who slog for an extended period are considered more worthy of a promotion or hike compared to those who work in a fixed schedule with good results.

This assumption needs a long time and tremendous efforts to go away and any bill cannot simply change a stale thought as popular as this.

2. Connectivity compulsion

Ours is a fast-growing economy and most of the corporate sectors get the jobs outsourced from countries of Europe and America. In such cases, the employees are bound to work at an odd time for connectivity with distributed teams. Although such matters can be mitigated with flexible working time, a major chunk of the millennials prefer to spend time in office than any personal improvement agenda.

Workforce first needs to get it ready to adopt this proposal.

3. Competitive culture

The work culture in India suffers from moody bosses who illustrate and practise authority at every possible opportunity, work ethics that value extending office hours and pushing the limits further on each matter to strive for success and sustain competition. No one wants to lag for the sake of time and workforce is ready to bend and work extra at the petty benefits of allowances.

The Committee that is mentioned in the bill has to exercise the compliance strictly and the work ethos has to shift to neutrality in a highly competitive era.

Viability after getting a nod?

Although the chances look remote, what if the bill is passed? There would still be bumpers in the execution path. The aforementioned Employee Welfare Committee should comply with the rule book stringently. The punitive process would take an unofficial form against the employees and can get a stamp of negligence or poor performance. The management would retaliate in ways that would appear genuine like retracting the perks, reducing the hikes and downsizing in the name of revenue and losses.

Most supervisors are managers and not leaders who want subordinates to follow at the blink of their eyes. These managers should move away from favoritism and understand the need for a balanced life for the staff members. The HRs can help in this regard to strike an agreement laterally.

Flexible job hours, connectivity from home or any other feasible place, compulsory leaves and enhanced employee engagement are some ways the extra effort can be compensated with if the need arises. Many organizations declare furlough leaves, which is a good step to manage the equilibrium.

Let us not forget the flip side which would favor the lazy folks who don’t move a finger easily. Even with long pending work, they would take undue advantage of this bill and make themselves cozy without answering the calls and might use the right against the lenient supervisors. Also, any mishap in the factories would not be addressed and any urgent issue that might cost heavy to the company would not be resolved timely.

There are many fields, which demand a high availability of the workers such as medical and media. Bill should accommodate such fields and has to consider both the parties.

Around the world

France has been the pioneer in implementing such a policy—the Right to Professional Disconnection.  A study in 2016 depicted that 37% of the French employees were using tools like a smartphone to connect with office beyond the working hours and 62% of them wanted formal regulations against this issue.

Although the government introduced the right but gave the liberty to the business groups to choose and define feasibility of this right mindfully based on the work shifts, weekend needs and tasks dealing beyond the borders to take care of the time lags. The companies with a headcount exceeding 50 are to follow this right and others are bound to release a guideline to their workforce.

While Germany does not have any such right officially, most organizations inherently implement policies similar to this for facilitating a balance for their employees. Volkswagen and Daimler email servers were programmed in such a way that they refrained from emailing between non-working periods and holidays, respectively.

Countries like Italy and Philippines followed the suite to counter the stress in workers and for their well-being, they defined some form of disconnection policies.

Conclusion

The digital technologies which should have been a boon are proved otherwise blurring the line between personal and professional life. Digitization has a common ill effect of pushing the limits and go an extra notch. Apparently, that extra notch stretches until we sleep a0nd shut out eyes after checking the mails as the last thing instead of sharing an anecdote with the family.

Unlike the European countries that already have strict labor laws and work time is around 35 hours a week, the employers in India clock between 40 and 45 hours weekly. India still has a long road ahead to compete with the developed nations, so such comparisons may not sound realistic too.

The bill gives hope to all those who give uncompromised importance to personal time but the bill has a long journey ahead.

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