Right to Disconnect – Is There a Need?

Is there really a need for a right to disconnect? Prior to the pandemic few worked from home, during the pandemic most of us were forced to work from home and now for most, working from home is the preference.

Being able to work remotely from home during the pandemic enabled businesses to keep functioning and thus reduced the number of jobs that were lost. Technology played a key part here and enabled staff to stay connected with their colleagues and customers all without leaving their own home! Time also spent travelling was recouped and arguably led to greater productivity. But at what cost?

An employer will benefit from a member of their staff being able to correspond with colleagues and customers at any time, often without turning on their computer by simply using various apps on their phone, such as Teams, WhatsApp etc. But there have been many whose mental health and wellbeing have suffered as a result. Rather than leaving work behind, the concept of “living at work”, namely their home becoming their workplace and unable to make the distinction between the two led to longer working hours and the lines between work life and home life becoming blurred. Whilst there are many benefits to working from home, one of the most common issues is “being able to escape work”- outside of working hours. Coupled with this, working from home has been detrimental for some who have been left feeling isolated and with a lack of purpose or belonging. Employers have had to be creative in finding new ways to counteract some of these issues.

To counteract some of the negative issues to arise, some countries have adopted the “the right to disconnect”- namely the right not to suffer detriment or dismissal for not responding to work related correspondence outside of working hours. France took the lead in this respect in 2017 (way before the pandemic and the trend of working from home) and introduced legislation prohibiting employers from encroaching on their employees’ personal and family lives. Belgium, Italy, Spain, Ireland and most recently, Portugal have followed suit. Scotland has commenced consultations on “the right to disconnect” and in England whilst there has been some talk, no formal consultations have commenced. However it is likely that in reviewing the world we work in post pandemic that the “right to disconnect” is likely to feature in government thinking.

In the meantime, employers can adopt a culture of not encouraging staff to respond to work related communications outside of working hours, led by example from the top. Some managers have started to delay the receipt of emails deliberately so staff do not pick them up outside working hours. The use of email footers with clearly set out working hours have also been encouraged, some employers have gone further by the use of technology which restricts access outside working hours. What works for one business will be different to the next, but what is really important is clear communication on expectations and how those expectations are managed. In the midst of staff retention difficulties, staff burnout and difficulties in recruiting, employers may find adopting some of these strategies helpful and easy wins.

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This article was originally published on: 8 July 2022

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