The "right to disconnect," otherwise known as
"Hey, Boomer, get a life!"
Or communicating with your colleagues after hours – use caution.
This blog started as a caution to leaders who communicate with their team outside of the typical workday, and don't get me wrong; it is an issue that I have seen go very wrong for my clients; I will get to it in the second half of this blog.
But first, what quickly came into my head as I thought about after-hours/weekend/holiday communications was … how many darned communication channels there are and how confusing it can be to exchange about work issues spanning 2, 3, or 5 different platforms.
Crazy Amounts of Communication Options
We have more options (lots, lots more) than ever before for communicating with everyone. I hadn't thought about the totality of options until I started to write this blog, and WOW the options are crazy. We got:
- Collaboration technologies like Slack, Teams, Google Workspace, Yammer, Confluence, etc.
- Dozens of instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, Signal, Viber, ad infinitum
- Social media platforms - Discord, Reddit, LinkedIn, FB, IG, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, the list is endless
- Even our old friend email is still widely used (though this is less and less the preferred channel in many workplaces)
- Finally, some people still go old school with … gasp … the telephone
- A terrifying thought to anyone under 30 I know; "Why would I even do that when it's so much easier to use my thumbs?!"
The challenge is that most of us use 3, 4, 5, or more every single day, and it is common to have work-relevant communication on many of them (often simultaneously). I don't know about you, but at EngagedLeadership, we often ask, "Did you email that, Slack me, text me, or put it in the chat on our zoom call we just ended?" Teams and companies are talking about standards for "What channel gets used for what information at what times." This approach can be useful, but it also seems to get ignored by just enough people to make things even worse.
The "right to disconnect," otherwise known as "Hey Boomer, go get a life, would ya!"
You may know many countries have passed right-to-disconnect laws, including several in Europe (for Americans who have worked there, yes, France was the first) and our friends to the North in Canada. As you can imagine, these laws are driven by an increasing incursion on "quality of life" for workers. According to Dr. Amy Zadow, a psychologist at the University of South Australia, "this availability creep can negatively impact physical and psychological health." Multiple pieces of research conclude that a state of "hypervigilance" regarding work-related communications impacts not only your metabolism but also your body's immunity capabilities.
Why do we do it?
For the most part, no one wants to be stressed out, have difficulty sleeping, or begin to have a cringe response whenever their device beeps, buzzes, or lights up with a red badge. Clients tell me it is one part expectation, two parts fearing they will look bad if they are the only person not to respond to a group message, and lastly, part wanting the jolt of dopamine. The same sneaky "feel good chemical" that drives people to compulsively check their phones hundreds of times daily.
Think About it!
Team members/colleagues - do you need to send this message now? Will knowing the negative impacts of "hyper-vigilance" for others matter to you, or is this just about "you needing to do what you need to do and other people can take care of themselves?" A loaded choice.
Leaders, the burden lies even more heavily on your shoulders/fingers/thumbs. What expectations are you setting? What are you modeling for your team? People are watching what you do, and your behavior impacts them (like it or not). There is a power dynamic in your relationship with them that you can't avoid. If you think your team members will ignore your model and habits and make their own decisions about their lives with absolutely no concern for the implications for them … well then, your naïveté is showing.
Let's be clear; some issues demand late-night or weekend communication. Of course, there are. That isn't true for 82% of the off-hours communications that happen. Ok, yes, I made that number up, but you would agree that, in your experience, my estimate isn't far off.
I have worked with plenty of senior leaders who ARE very intentional about when and who they message. They ARE cognizant of the expectations they create with weekend emails and 10 pm Slacks. I can tell you for certain … their teams' notice! They talk about the difference compared to other leaders or their last boss. This impacts job satisfaction, loyalty, motivation, and turnover. Bosses and companies get reputations … think about yours.