In a recent article by the Guardian, it was announced that Prospect (a union which represents scientists, engineers, and tech workers) is petitioning Members of Parliament to ask that employees and employers be required to agree particular hours where employees cannot be contacted for work purposes.
What would it look like?
The idea surrounding the right to disconnect is to tackle the more difficult side of remote working and the advance in technology, this is especially the case where people work outside of their hours or feel they are expected to respond at all hours.
The idea proposed is that companies would agree hours with staff in which they could not be contacted for work purposes. This would set clear boundaries and lessens the obligation employees might feel when they fail to respond to an email or call outside of work hours.
We know that this is one of the matters being considered in the upcoming Employment Law Bill here in England and Wales.
Why does it matter?
Studies have shown that, as a result of the pandemic and the rise in working from home and remote working, 35% of work-related mental health has worsened. At least 18% of people report that they now work at least four additional unpaid hours per week.
Benoit Hamon of the French National Assembly told the BBC: “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash — like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails — they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”
That’s not to say that all employers are expecting their employees to work these hours, but this is probably more likely caused by people not feeling able to walk away from their laptops or phones at the end of the day. We have heard stories of people starting to feel compulsions to check their emails constantly, out of hours, to ensure they don’t miss anything or feel like they are missing anything important.
The thought process is that effectively having a legal requirement to agree on boundaries, rather than just an expected practice, which would encourage employees not to feel obligated to think about work matters outside of their working hours.
What do other countries do?
In other jurisdictions, there is already a little more a divide drawn between working and none working time:
- In Ireland, since 1 April 2021, employees now have the “right to disconnect”. Employees are entitled to “switch off” and not engage in digital communications outside of their normal hours, and they have the right not to be penalised if they refuse to attend to work matters outside of their hours. Others are also required to respect another person’s right to disconnect, by not routinely emailing outside of normal hours.
- In France, in a company of more than 50 employees, an employer cannot email an employee outside of typical work hours. Although there are no consequences for violating this, companies aim to have “charters of good conduct” which specify when employees are free from being digitally connected to their employer. Employers may also be disciplined for breaching this charter and emailing outside of those hours.
How can you help your employee disconnect?
Aside from a potential legal obligation, for now, what can an employer do to encourage an employee to “switch off” outside of their working hours? Here are a few tips;
- Embed it into your culture!
The most important thing to do is try not to have a culture where people are expected to work out of their hours; make sure that all employees have mutual respect for their colleague’s hours and don’t have unrealistic expectations. Lead from the top – managers should make it clear that, if they email outside of hours, they don’t expect an immediate response from the juniors.
Incorporate email signatures that make it clear that you don’t expect a response outside of working hours, this can be helpful to encourage understanding and to change the company culture.
- Encourage “do not disturb”
One of the most difficult factors for employees can be if they continue to receive notifications or emails on their phones outside of work hours. Ensure that your employees know how to turn off notifications (and encourage them to do so) or do not disturb functions on their phones.
- Use automatic replies
Automatic replies can be really helpful in setting boundaries; if employees are in meetings or working on specific projects, encourage them to set an out of office so that any person who emails them will not expect them to respond. Also, encourage employees to set out of offices when they are off long term, or when they have non-working days.
- Provide work phones
This may not be appropriate for all employees and all levels, but employees could be provided with work phones which allow them to have a more precise division between their personal correspondence and their work contents. If a work phone can’t be provided, are there any old phones which an employee has, and perhaps a cheap pay as you go sim that may be utilised? These are just some considerations to put in place.
Do you know what to do when it comes to your employee’s mental health?
Do you have high rates of sickness absences? Do you struggle to keep employee’s wellbeing at the top of your agenda?
What if you could reduce the number of sick absences you have?What if you could increase your employees productively at work? The most successful businesses are those that invest in their people and put their employee’s well-being at the front of their agenda. Your people are the drivers of your business and so looking after their mental wellbeing will only benefit your business in the long run, by way of a crucial investment in your workforce
Thrive has created a Wellbeing programme for businesses to better understand their employee’s needs, ensuring the safety of their wellbeing and by having this knowledge you will reap the rewards.
By Alicia Collinson
Please note this blog is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. Please contact us if you have any questions on firstname.lastname@example.org