• Legislation brought in on January 1 means French companies are legally required to provide their employees with a “right to disconnect” from technology outside. (Getty Images)
French companies are now legally required to provide their employees with a “right to disconnect” - should we be following suit?
By
Jill Stark

17 Jan 2017 - 1:23 PM  UPDATED 17 Jan 2017 - 3:22 PM

There are 2,301 unread emails in my inbox.

I feel like I’m perpetually in the middle of a conversation I never finish. I try to get through them – respond to the ones that matter, cull the ones that don’t – but there’s always more.

It’s a hallmark of modern life. “Always on” is the new normal. Our phones light up like pokie machines with pings and rings and flashing notifications.

A journalist friend told me this week that he spent his summer holiday deleting 200 emails a day, just to avoid an overwhelming backlog when he returned to work.

We used to say, “good, thanks” when someone asked how we were. Now, the standard response is, “crazy busy.”

Legislation brought in on January 1 means French companies are legally required to provide their employees with a “right to disconnect” from technology outside standard working hours.

But racing towards burnout shouldn’t be a competitive sport. It’s time we challenged this cult of busyness.

Exhaustion is not a status symbol. Being so over-scheduled we don’t have time to pee should not be worn as a badge of honour.

We would do well to follow France’s lead and start promoting a culture that genuinely embraces work-life balance.

Legislation brought in on January 1 means French companies are legally required to provide their employees with a “right to disconnect” from technology outside standard working hours.

The new laws dictate that organisations with more than 50 staff must negotiate deals with staff, setting out their rights to not reply to emails or take phone calls during their own time.

It may be tricky to enforce but the government-led move is at least setting a clear social message about the kind of community that citizens should be entitled to live in.

And we desperately need to strike that balance here. In November, to promote national Go Home On Time Day, The Australia Institute released a study which found that the average full-time worker does 5.1 hours of unpaid overtime each week - or 264 hours per year.

More than half of those with access to annual leave do not take their full entitlements; people are literally too busy to switch off.

It’s a terrible message to send to a generation of children who are struggling with the pace and demands of modern life. Mission Australia’s annual youth survey showed that the top two issues concerning the 21,000 young people surveyed were coping with stress, and school or study problems.

The proportion of 15 to 19-year-olds who said they lack the skills or knowledge to deal with stress has increased every year since the survey began in 2001.

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We are setting these kids up for a lifetime of unnecessary pressure and mental exhaustion if their role models are working around-the-clock in a society that places busyness above stillness.

Changing the culture will be challenging but it should start with a collective questioning of why we can’t slow down. Sure, smartphones, unstable job markets and rampant consumerism contribute to the pressure to work and play harder than we once did. But could it be more than that?

Is it the adrenaline rush or feeling of importance we get from juggling multiple deadlines, family commitments and crammed social diaries?

Are we so wedded to perfectionism, control and validation that we don’t trust our workplaces to survive without us for a few days?

Exhaustion is not a status symbol. Being so over-scheduled we don’t have time to pee should not be worn as a badge of honour.

Maybe the frantic rush from one engagement to another is just a way to paper over the cracks of uncomfortable feelings we’re trying to avoid.

More importantly, it’s worth pondering what we’re we missing out on when we allow this juggernaut of expectation to run over us.

Turn off the phone. Hug your kids, or your cat, or yourself. Read a book. Stare at the wall and celebrate silence. Catch up with a friend - not to tick it off your to-do list - but because the richness of their conversation brings you joy. Take some time off, even if just for a few hours.

There will always be more to do tomorrow: lists to get through, deadlines to meet. But today, in this moment, banish busy and breathe into the space. Sometimes, to be truly switched on, you just have to switch off.

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