In the run-up to the US elections, I received most of my news from one source. I followed a young journalist of The Atlantic, who blogged tirelessly on every nuance of the election process on Twitter. For the six months that I followed him, he was offline for no more than a few hours a day, carrying out his journalistic duty to inform and instruct to the finest standard. Thank you, Derek Thompson.
If Thompson was based in France, he could have eventually been mandated, under the new employment legislation, to “disconnect” after 6pm. Commenting on this bizarre legislation, which went into effect last week, its proponents noted that employees were attached to their work by a “kind of electronic leash – like a dog”; that the boundaries between private and office lives became blurred; and that in their spare time, people were best advised to pursue enjoyable activities with their families, rather than work.
Well, what if I don’t have a family? Or what if I have a family, but my work is, sadly, more appealing to me than they are? Ever wondered why some people stay late in the office without anything urgent to do?
If employees want to work in their spare time, no government should ever legislate against it. Not all of us have happy personal lives or meaningful hobbies.
This is the first point. The second point is that the blurring of personal and professional lives seems like the direction that the world is moving in. And to me, this is a perfectly fine direction. I have always worked in an environment where I knew that I had to work as long as it took to get the job done. I have also always worked in an environment where I liked what I did – at least most of the time – and to me, doing work after hours was not a hardship, but a satisfying compulsion.
If France actually starts to ban employees from checking emails after work, a whole new type of hacking industry will soon emerge: the one which will help you, for a reasonable fee, to break into your own account after 6pm and on weekends. France says that being constantly online creates stress. It can – and we should indeed learn to ignore minor emails or inane instructions from the boss. But if we are banned from being online after hours altogether, the stress of missing out could be much higher.
Back in my days in the City, I worked with a few people who went on a three-week holiday and completely “disconnected”. Then they came back and spent the first two days opening several thousand emails. This practice seemed so 1999. Pre-Blackberry. Obsolete. Lazy. I would never have had them on my team. Didn’t they want to know, during that three-week abstinence, how their stock was performing? Didn’t they have the slightest curiosity about how their product was doing?
If our work and personal lives are indeed becoming one and the same, that may actually be a good thing and mean that we are working in the jobs that we like. And if you are able to spend three weeks away from your job in blissful ignorance, you probably do not care enough.
If, in the run-up to the US elections, Thompson had been switching off his Twitter feed at 6pm to have an evening off, with the pace of today’s news, he might as well have stopped blogging. Or started reporting on the Clinton v Dole election of 1996.
The world moves faster. Work moves faster. Being “always on” is just the modern way. And it’s a good thing, if you like what you do.