I respect the right of anyone to choose when and how they reply to an email. The person receiving an email has the power to delete, ignore, read, respond immediately or respond whenever they choose. They can even have an automatic response, say over their holiday or weekend, that they are away from work and will respond on their return.
However, that does not give the receiver the right to tell anyone that they cannot or should not send an email at any particular time. That is, I am equally respectful of the right to send an email anytime you want. I could have a note on my email that the recipient can answer if they choose and when they choose to do so, but that seems unnecessary. It is entirely in their purview or power to respond or not to respond.
So the FT reports that “Labour plans to echo a French rule with a ‘right to switch off; for exhausted staff” (Pickard and Strauss 2023: 1). Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, shadow secretary of state for the ‘future of work’ notes that “Constant emails and calls outside of work should not be the norm and is harming work-life balance for many.” (Pickard and Strauss 2023: 1). So some parliamentarians want to legislate the right to disconnect from phones and laptops outside working hours.
First, no one uses the phone anymore for a voice call, only for texting or email. If you do get a voice call, and you are at home, or on holiday, you can choose not to answer it. You can have a recorded message that you are not at work or away from your desk. Or you can use any number of excuses that my daughters have used, such as your battery died.
Second, email and private messaging services such as on WhatsApp, are asynchronous. They are designed to be asynchronous. Video calls and conference calls do need to be synchronous, but systems allow you to note your availability. Don’t agree to attend meetings at bad times for you.
Do people really want governments to legislate their right to not answer or respond when they are off work? Do they want government regulation to tell their boss they cannot contact them over the weekend? Modern communication networks enable you to schedule and respond when you wish, but they also give the speaker the right to send a message when and if they wish, because they do not control the recipient.
Personally, it is important for me to send a message when I have decided what I want to say, when I finish reading a message or report, when I have time, when I want to get it off my mind, not slow other colleagues down, and so on. When its gone it is then up to the recipient to do whatever they choose. Legislating such norms is nuts and undermines much of the flexibility and brilliance of new communication technologies.
If your boss or particular colleague is the problem and you sort of feel like you are in the movie ‘9 To 5’, then deal with your boss or colleague. Put your ‘off work’ message in your automatic reply. Do anything but try to make a law that someone cannot send you a message whenever they want.
When I was a kid, in the 1950s, everyone would run for the phone (in the hallway) as soon as they heard it ring. People would stop whatever they were doing to get the phone call. Seriously. Those days are gone for most of the world.
When I moved into a new office around 2003, it took be over a year to realise my phone was not connected to the right jack – the proper jack for my phone jack had been covered by a new bookcase when – so I literally had no land line. I didn’t even realise that as I could call out, since I didn’t miss phone calls, but it didn’t matter. Nearly all my work was conducted via email, online conferencing, or in person.
You have the power to send and to reply anytime, from anywhere, or never – use it. Don’t take away the rights of others.
Jim Pickard and Delphanine Strauss (2023), “Labour plans to echo French rule with ‘right to switch off’ for exhausted staff”, Financial Times, 13/14 May, page 1.