Many countries around the world are leading the way with the introduction of laws to give workers the right to switch off from their jobs, to preserve work-life balance. In an era of digital technology and remote flexible working that means we are always connected and available to work, what lessons could business learn from ‘right to disconnect’ legislative control?

Right to disconnect – what is it?

For many people, having the right tools to do your job has included the likes of smartphones and laptops, meaning we could just about work from anywhere. With COVID related lockdowns and travel restrictions, for many businesses remote working was a saviour and has now been adopted as a norm. There has been further blurring of the line between being a productive employee and having downtime, with an ever-growing expectation of workers being available all the time.

Governments are responding with many countries (France, Italy, Ireland) introducing ‘right to disconnect’ legislation – laws that give workers the ability to not engage in work related communication during non-work hours, without penalties. Unions and employee advocate groups have been strong proponents of introducing this type of legislation, for example in Australia the Police Association of Victoria was successful in incorporating the right to disconnect in its collective agreements. Many other countries are also currently debating the legislation and how it could apply in a post-COVID world.

What is the context?

Through research studies and anecdotally, we know that having a workplace culture where there is an expectation of employees always being available – from responding to emails or phone calls during non-work time through to managing excessive workloads – can have a negative impact on an employee’s wellbeing as they are never able to fully disengage from work. Latest studies suggest that it is the expectation of being available rather than the actual work, that is the most damaging. This manifests itself in health issues for the individual, as well as having a direct link to productivity and job performance which impacts wider organisational performance.

How can business respond?

Some countries, like Germany, have adopted a non-legislative approach with multi-national businesses introducing company policy that protects the rights of workers to disconnect. This includes for example Volkswagen, Daimler, and Siemens. Often with technology driven solutions like employees not being able to access emails or work systems outside of set hours.

With the increase in flexible working arrangements, workers want more autonomy to design their own ways of working and that makes introducing laws or business policy even more challenging. How can workers have flexibility with rules that set to define ‘normal’ working hours?

That is not to say that there is not space for an organisational response and setting business policy that encourages work-life balance is a start. The key however is to make sure this is reiterated and communicated regularly. The best way to do this is for senior leaders to be exhibiting the right behaviours to the rest of the business. It also requires a greater focus on employee wellbeing as part of your health and safety strategy.

For leaders, it means creating clear boundaries to encourage workers to take time away from their work, remembering that everyone is different and people may respond in different ways.

While the global pandemic has been incredibly challenging, it also offers businesses the opportunity to make permanent changes for the better. Let’s re-think what really is good for business.

Need help?

If you need advice and guidance on getting your people strategy right for your business, get in touch with us today. We’d love to chat.

The Decipher Team

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