After-office digital connection
Sen. Francis Tolentino recently filed a bill that would give employees the “right to disconnect” or the right to enjoy without interruption their free time after work hours.
Under that right, employees who are on their rest day cannot be compelled to render overtime work unless allowed by law or with his or her written consent; or made to perform work-related activities, such as attending seminars or team-building exercises.
And most importantly, they cannot be contacted for work-related purposes through telephone, email, messaging and other means of communication unless for an urgent task or an emergency as defined by the Labor Code.
The bill aims to establish a dichotomy between the employees’ work hours and their legally mandated rest day. The blurring of those lines often results in job burnout.
Digital technology, e.g., email, short messaging and other internet-based communication systems, has brought down the wall that once separated private time from office hours, or an employee’s persona as an individual with a private life to enjoy and as a cog in the machine that puts food on the table.
The traditional eight-hour work schedule which, depending on the work shift, usually starts at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. has been subtly replaced by a system that ignores that structure.
Today, work does not stop at the end of official work hours or at the office exit door; it follows the employees wherever they go any time of the day or night, even during the most intimate moments of their life.
Although email may be considered a “white collar” concern, especially for those engaged in heavy paperwork, and employees whose work spans different time zones, that practice has (by default) found its way to rank-and-file employees.
Fearful of missing an important email or being left out of the decision-making loop (as it may result in job loss), some employees feel compelled to take a look at their gizmos before going to bed and shortly after waking up in the morning.
For those who keep their gadgets working 24/7 to show their “commitment” to the company, that means waking up in the middle of the night when an email or message is sent.
That scenario is reprised on weekends and on occasions when the employee is supposed to be on private time with his or her family, friends and loved ones.
By choice or circumstance, keeping in touch with the office or professional colleagues round-the-clock through email or other internet-based facilities has become the rule rather than the exception.
For obvious reasons, the company’s top brass can maintain cyberspace silence or disconnect from their work if they want to enjoy the full measure of their private time. The staff would have to deal with any problems that may arise while they’re tuned out.
Those who are not similarly privileged have no choice but put their gizmos on standby mode just in case somebody higher in the pecking order decides to call their attention on matters that cannot wait for the start of official working hours.
This desire to remain connected, however, is sometimes self-inflicted. Even if there is no need or there is full certainty that no intrusive email or message is expected, some employees feel insecure if their gadgets are turned off.
They find psychic comfort in receiving office messages, even if they are inconsequential, during their private time. It gives them a feeling of importance or value to the company, never mind if it means invading their privacy.
Often, a person’s ego or false pride has an uncanny way of ignoring common sense.
The proposed “right to disconnect” law has good intentions. For wellness reasons, employees should be allowed to enjoy, without interruption, their free time. There is life after work hours and only the strongest reasons would justify its forfeiture.
Considering the present unemployment problem, however, it is doubtful if any employee who wants to keep his or her job would want or even think of obtaining that right.
Tolentino’s bill would have to wait for better economic times. INQ
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