Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Big Disconnect

You’ve got to admire France. As if Bordeaux wine, Brie cheese, croissants, and Maurice Chevalier weren’t enough to brag about, their legislators have passed a law that employees are not required to check their work e-mails when they’re off duty. I didn’t realize that was a job requirement over there. Apparently, the French have different work expectations than us American underachievers.

When did this become a legal issue that required government intervention? Don’t we all have the right not to conduct business on our own time if we don’t want to? I thought this was a given in a free society, like childbirth and binge watching Bonanza reruns on Hulu.

Studies have shown that workers who stay disconnected from the company inbox when they’re away from the office have a lower rate of stress and lead happier lives. In this country, it’s what the fair labor standard is all about. An eight-hour workday, leaving the remaining time for leisure and rest. If you choose to do work tasks on your own time, that should be your choice. Even those of us who work jobs requiring that we are on call twenty-four-seven have some flexibility. Why make a federal case out of it?

The problem goes deeper than a desire to remain competitive in the workplace, though. We’ve all become addicted to electronic media in some form. Most people get their daily news, weather and sports fixes online. Cable news networks continue to enjoy the highest viewership they’ve had in years, and movies on demand are increasingly popular among the couch potato set. The United States Postal Service moans about being in the red because most of us send e-mails instead of letters. Brick-and-mortar retailors are feeling the heat as well, thanks to the convenience of online shopping. We’re constantly being encouraged to pay bills and do our banking online. And don’t get me started on inconsiderate drivers who cause more accidents than icy roads because they were talking on their cell phones instead of paying attention.

I have made it a personal policy for many years not to take work home with me. That means no paperwork, reports, or projects that I can do on company time. I am also not hooked into my employer’s e-mail on my computer or phone, even though I have that option. I may call in to check on something important, but not very often. I also utilize caller ID and voicemail. My philosophy has always been that my off-work time belongs to me, my family, and my friends.

Some of my co-workers have opted to stay connected to the job through their smartphones, claiming that they want to be on top of things and avoid surprises. I’ll admit that I only like surprises on Christmas and my birthday, but if it’s something really urgent, they’ll call me. It’s interesting to note that none of my peers who engage in this practice have been rewarded with a promotion yet. These are the same people who will obsessively check their Facebook page throughout the day, afraid that they’ll miss the latest video link or joke.

Several years ago, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Indianapolis Bookfest. The theme that year was promoting literacy among children and young adults. I gave a lively speech extolling the virtues of public libraries, books, magazines, newspapers, and cursive handwriting (remember that?). At the conclusion, I received a terrific ovation when I encouraged those present that if they wanted to promote literacy with their kids, tell them to turn off the TV and the computer, put away the damned Gameboy and read a book!

I realize that there are many occupations that require around the clock attention, but it’s time for all of us to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with the real world. When was the last time you engaged in the simple pleasure of taking a walk through a park on a summer evening? Or watching a sunset without the distraction of a ringing phone? How about inviting your friends to a barbecue in your back yard, where the only entertainment is tossing a Frisbee with the kids? When was the last time you enjoyed dinner in a nice restaurant without carrying on a cell phone conversation or checking to see how the market closed that day?

Hey, here’s a radical idea: disconnect for 24 hours! That means no web surfing, no e-mails, no Candy Crush, no Facebook posts, and no searching YouTube for the latest cute kitten videos. Think you can do it without a law telling you that it’s okay?

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. His website is www.timsmithauthor.com.

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