Are your employees “disconnecting”?

For many, the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and personal life, and many will have found themselves checking emails in the evenings and even at weekends, or just doing that extra piece of work after hours. With a huge cohort of employees working from home, many staff are finding it difficult to switch off and are increasingly working out of hours. The right to disconnect is the process of creating a system that works against this, encouraging staff to switch off their phones/emails and enjoy their free time away from work without being disturbed or feeling guilty for doing so.

The process of disconnecting is commonplace in other parts of Europe but there is no legislation to enforce it in the UK. There are protections in place to prevent employees working excessive hours in the form of Working Time Regulations, but employee organisations are suggesting that the UK should follow France and other European countries, where the right to disconnect has been enshrined in law. Ireland also introduced a new official code of practice in April 2021.

The three key rights enshrined in the Code are:

  • the right of an employee not to have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours.
  • the right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours.
  • the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours).

Whilst employers may praise employees who regularly work out of hours, there is also an argument to be mindful of the effect of this and the effect of “burnout”. It can be damaging and cause a decrease in performance, quality of work and general low morale. The right to disconnect works to counteract this. Not only can it help promote greater staff wellbeing, but it can also be an effective way to show your business cares for its employees, something that can help retain staff and attract new employees.

The UK Government has not indicated any plans to make such a right a legal requirement, nor produce a Code of Practice, but in the light of the pandemic resulting in many working from home and there probably being a shift from office life to a more flexible working strategy, with outdoor meetings, continuation of working from home and various other methods, as we look to a post-pandemic world it may be something that organisations seek to explore going forward.

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