It is all too common to be asked by your supervisors at work or even being directed by one’s company policy to remain connected or digitally available over mail or text even after working hours. Sounds common right?

It is, and not just in India in many places all over the globe including the US. Europe, however, has a completely different and even opposite take on this. French workers have recently won their right to disconnect, hence making it impossible for their employers to demand them to remain connected to or answer mails, etc after working hours! However, the question in context is – The Right to Disconnect – Should it be a human right question or not?

The US vs. Europe Story

Europe reflects a protectionist attitude towards its workers. Various European countries have policies that seek to protect the rights of their employees in today’s digital age. The email moratoriums (right to not having to receive emails after work hours), right to be forgotten (right to demand that search engines erase their online history), drafting of the European Digital Charter by policy makers are all examples of the same. Europe believes in privacy and humanism and maintaining a balanced work-life which can be seen in their shorter work weeks and generous vacation policies as well.

The US on the other hand, has a completely different take on this subject altogether. American workers are empowered to have more mindful relationship with technology and thereby a more engaged bonding with the organization they work for. Digital distraction is considered as a part of human existence today and policies or work norms blur the boundaries between the professional and personal lives of its workers. Most Americans users do not use all of their paid vacation days and are quite proud of it.

The India story

The India story is similar to the American one. We do not demand all of our paid vacations out of fear that we would be viewed as unwilling workers and slacking or even worse, our eager colleagues would have a competitive advantage over us. The ability to remain forever connected and available digitally is somehow a measure of our commitment towards work in a nation plagued by too many people with too few jobs.

So the question remains that how does this affect us? Both as human beings and as workers? Since this alone can answer whether the right to disconnect should be viewed as a basic human right or not.

The effectiveness and productiveness question as workers

Rationally and logically speaking the argument generally is that this constant engagement to work, eroding of time with oneself and with family, encroachment on personal privacy, etc adversely affect one’s productivity and effectiveness at work since it causes burnout. The opposite camp argues that without the constant engagement factor over and above what is expected from them work-wise, humans can soon be replaced with robots and proposing the right to disconnect might just be the starting of our own end. Also, constant engagement reflects true commitment and hence real productivity is the common response in this case.

The humanism question as mortal beings

This argument would forever go on but what is more important to be seen is the bigger picture in this. What is happening to us as human beings? How is it affecting our souls? As a human being living in today’s digital age, one can safely argue that the ‘epidemic of distraction’ is a threat to our souls. Humans, by virtue of the humanism we possess, are designed to constantly be in the look out for that profound element, that essential soul-searching element in our lives, that leads to our core human ability to be ‘in the moment’ relating to other people and feeling intimate, passionate and compassionate. This essential human element is being forgotten by the constant digital engagement.

In the context of relationships – the greatest issue in today’s world might be how to be more interesting than my partner’s smartphone! Since social isolation is also the biggest fear of any human soul, the constant urge to digitally engage is also a natural fallout and European policies are probably answering just that – protecting the core human agency in us, so that we can reclaim what is left of our own autonomy.

So the right to disconnect might seem to be nothing but a work policy related matter but with deeper insight it is clearly a basic human rights issue that needs to be looked into with much greater understanding and depth.

Do you work to live or live to work? Think about it.