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The right to disconnect

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I overheard a chat today between two of my acquaintances. “Try not to work this weekend,” one part mocked and part admonished the other. The other in turn replied, “I don’t have a choice.” In response, her friends said, matter-of-fact, “Yes you do: fall behind.”

This conversation wasn’t a surprise, as I’d spent some time in the company of this workaholic. On a recent work trip, which would require us to be at a venue by 6pm, out by 11pm, checking into the hotel around midnight, waking up in time for breakfast the next morning at 9am, she had lugged her laptop all the way – in case, justified, she had to get back to emails.

Mr. O who had been confused by yours truly on this trip and who is way more blunt that I am responded with, “Come on! You’re already on the clock as it is by working after hours over a weekend, why would you even remotely consider getting back to emails after midnight? Look, whatever it is can wait till Monday.”

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“I guess,” the woman in question said, unconvinced. It was obvious that, in her world, nothing could wait till Monday. Saturdays and Sundays were work days too, in fact the actual work days of Monday to Friday extended beyond 6pm.

What was even more sad, in my opinion, was that she also admitted openly to her eight year old daughter saying, “Mummy, I hate your laptop” because the poor little girl was vying for Mummy’s attention against a laptop, and the laptop was coming up tops.

She also divulged that during the school holidays her husband would take their daughter on holiday so she could concentrate on work.

During our two-day sojourn, no amount of reminding her about a work-life balance worked. I was keen to share my experience of what feels like another lifetime. When I used to get up at 6.30 to head out to work in London, most days work through lunch breaks with a lunch al desko on the go, head out of the office at 6.30 and get home late evening, only to continue getting back to emails. In my head, I had to work hard, I had to do well, I had to prove myself to my boss, I had to get back to emails at midnight – because wasn’t that what everyone did?

No, they didn’t of course. That’s how I was justifying my workaholic behaviour.

A new French law establishing workers’ “right to disconnect” made the headlines on 1 January 2017 when it went into effect. The law requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. The goals of the law include making sure employees are fairly paid for work, and preventing burnout by protecting private time.

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Fortunately, I dodged a burnout.
Unfortunately, I was a whisker away for years.

And unfortunately, it is not till you come to the awareness of how limited in fact your time on earth is that you realise the importance of protecting your private time.

In a world where people pride themselves on busyness and the act of juggling tasks and to do lists, the real skill is to strike that golden work/life balance. Living life to the fullest, without compromising work, and getting the work done without it creeping into your private time. Above all, the skill to prioritise loved ones and protect private time.

So this weekend, before you’re tempted to log on to your work email or put the finishing touches to the month end report, remember it’s the precious few moments stolen from the hustle and bustle of life you’ll remember on your dying bed, not the lonesome hours you spend bent over the keyboard, eyes glued to the monitor. Your promotion, pay check, corner suite office will not mean a thing the day your little one flies the nest and it hits you that you’ve missed the best years of your life together. Drop your mobile phone, step away from the laptop.


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