“We sometimes start at 8:30 am, we only take 30 minutes for lunch, sometimes we even have lunch in front of the screen, and we finish around 9 pm-10pm” sighs Jeanne, who works in the video game industry. Since the start of the health crisis and the implementation of teleworking in his company, his screen time as well as his stress have exploded. Although she warned her superiors and occupational medicine after the drops in blood pressure and weight loss, she was simply offered to “to delegate” or go to 80%, “While I was doing 130% and we were understaffed” she sighs.
Jeanne’s experience is unfortunately not isolated: a survey by the Ugict-CGT carried out with the Dares in May 2020 among 34,000 employees highlighted that “Nearly 80% of teleworkers” did not have a right to disconnect and that “40% of supervisors” deplored an increase in their time and workload. With the introduction of massive teleworking at the start of the health crisis, the transition was sometimes violent for employees and managers, who had to juggle between business continuity and the management of a new mode of operation.
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Lack of computer equipment, stalled meetings at all hours of the day, multiplication of communication channels… We had to adapt to a new rhythm. Claire, consultant, noticed changes in the way she worked: “The good thing is that I have more time to finish my assignments and tasks. The negative is that I work a lot more than before and that it is difficult to manage its load, especially when the management does not realize it ”. Keeping the link then becomes a completely digital exercise, as Marianne Lecot, an employment law lawyer, emphasizes. “Outside of the telework period, we still had relations between colleagues to speak directly. Today, by going only to digital, we add the multiplication of emails and over-solicitations, all WhatsApp groups, remote management tools… ”
The various confinements then put the subject of the right to disconnection back on the table. Established in 2017 as a minimum within the framework of the El Khomri law, known as the Labor Law, this designates the impossibility for employers to engage in professional tasks or to impose presence and availability via digital tools outside of professional hours. . “It is the right of an employee to disconnect after his working day. And it’s not just an intellectual disconnection: we are supposed to stop thinking about work ” insiste Marianne Lecot.
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The right to disconnect, in this context of teleworking, then becomes essential for the health of those who practice it. “When it is not respected, it does not only have financial consequences, but on privacy and health. We have in particular cases of burn-out: you can no longer think of anything else, and worse sometimes, you have to think about it and in addition to working on it ” underlines Marianne Lecot. The difficulty of “cutting off” from your work day is reinforced when personal and professional life are found in the same space. “Even though I was finishing late before, I could really cut when I got home at night or when I went to see friends. Today it is no longer possible, I cannot make a real cut ” Claire sighs.
Psycho-social risks have thus increased since March 2020. “We have seen a big difference between the companies which had already negotiated teleworking before the crisis, and the others. We switch their employees in lamentable conditions, in forced and degraded mode ” notes Jean-Luc Molins, executive at Orange and national secretary of the UGICT-CGT, responsible for digital issues. In particular, he was at the origin of the Guide to the right to disconnect, which explores the different facets of this right, and its consequences if it is not respected: isolation, overwork, loss of meaning and quality in work…
The psychological consequences of imposed telework are still difficult to estimate. But he has already shown the complexity of drawing a line between private and professional life. “It’s a scrambling maintained by company management, and therefore there is a need to build guarantees and safeguards for employees” supports Jean-Luc Molins. In addition to potential employer abuse, there is also the impression of not doing enough, as Maxime, web project manager testifies: “My employers have never been heavy on the subject, it is I who absolutely wanted to make myself available and who was afraid of not justifying my position. I was afraid that we would say to ourselves that the full remote did not justify a 35 hours ”. A complex balance to find.
Especially since in the law, the right to disconnect is not established as such. Article L 2242-8 of the Labor Code provides that from January 1, 2017, this becomes a seventh theme to be added to the Professional Equality / Quality of life at work negotiation: it neither sanctions nor obliges employers to respect it. “It is a right enshrined above all by case law. It appeared in cases of moral harassment, and this is how the courts came to speak of this notion ” explains Marianne Lecot. Would the right to disconnect then be a phantom right?
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Of the teleworkers we interviewed, many informed their superiors about their mental state and the lack of disconnection. But most decided to cut individually. “I have resigned, I dare to cut off at 6.15 pm without any problem” insists Jeanne. “It took me a while to find the necessary springs to make a clean cut when I was off: deactivation of certain notifications, clear display on the agenda, deliberate non-response… It is a professional hygiene to take , and which is not obvious ” explains Maxime, web project manager.
For others, the break is less clear. “It’s ‘if I want to watch I watch’. I have some tools on my personal phone, but configured without notifications. It’s not necessarily easy because you necessarily want to watch when you have a lot of things to do but I do it ” explains Mathilde. More importantly, these individual strategies are sometimes hindered by something else. “It’s part of the corporate culture” loose Claire. A corporate culture that is presentist, or that values the overload of work. “Depending on the business sector, it’s not too much, if it’s in the company’s DNA to work 70 hours a week. It is also mentalities: some end up thinking that it is normal ” underlines Marianne Lecot.
But then, if the law does not oblige or sanction companies, what remedies remain for employees drowned in emails at 9pm? “You have to think about the organization and the relationship to work”, insists Jean-Luc Molins, who offers training for companies with the UGICT-CGT. Training in good practices, a solution that pays off according to Marianne Lecot. “Blocking certain computer servers after working hours, sending out deferred emails… There are a lot of simple things to set up”, according to her.
For employees in crisis, the labor law lawyer advises to alert the hierarchy, especially during appraisal interviews. And if that doesn’t work, “Alert staff representatives, human resources, even the labor inspectorate or the courts. We can also turn to the occupational physician: in these spirals, employees no longer dare to take a break ” unrolls Marianne Lecot. But above all, “Not to be ashamed to say stop” she recalls.
However, the subject of the right to disconnect is on the table, including on the side of the European Union. On January 21, 2021, the European Parliament adopted a parliamentary initiative report asking the European Commission to legislate on the “right to disconnect”, a “fundamental right”. Eurocadres, the organization bringing together managers’ unions at European level, had notably launched its Endstress campaign for a directive on psycho-social risks and the right to disconnect.
An agreement signed in June 2020 by Europe should be a game-changer. “By June 2023, all Member States will have to transpose this European normative agreement into 4 main parts, one of which is on the right to disconnect. This agreement is more precise than French law and defines the terms of connection and disconnection ” explains Jean-Luc Molins. Currently, only France, Spain, Italy and Belgium have legislation on the issue.