The right to disconnect in a remote working world

New research from Autonomy thinktank has highlighted an ‘epidemic of hidden overtime’ as a result of employees working increasing hours at home. With the recent influx of companies moving to permanent remote working or hybrid working approaches, there is an evident need for the boundaries between work and home life to be more clearly defined to protect employees’ wellbeing.

The pandemic has started to instil a working environment with an increasing and unhealthy expectation for people to always be available and never wholly disconnected from work. However, this assumption can have damaging impacts on mental health, as employees are more likely to feel overwhelmed with stress if they think that they can’t take a break. As a result, there are calls for ‘right to disconnect’ laws in the UK to prevent overworking and unpaid labour.

What is the right to disconnect?

Generally, the right to disconnect means that employees do not have to engage with or reply to work-related communications, such as emails and calls, and can turn off work devices outside of working hours.

 In some countries, this is a legal right and in others, it is advisory. As ‘normal’ working hours differ across varying industries it may be beneficial for some workers to work outside of these hours and have time to disconnect at alternative times in the day.

Where is it implemented?

France is considered a pioneer in this area, leading the way in implementing laws that grant the right to disconnect. It is worked out on an individual basis to create charters that meet the needs of different businesses so companies can put their own regulations in place to determine when staff are not supposed to be disconnected.

Most recently, in April this year, Ireland granted employees the right to disconnect under a Code of Practice. Encompassed in the code is the right for employees to not have to engage in work-related matters after hours and the right not to be penalised for doing so. Additionally, workers must universally respect the right for others to disconnect.

Similar legislation has also been introduced across Europe, in countries such as Italy and Spain but there is currently no legislation in the pipeline for the UK. 

How is it beneficial?

Allowing employees time to really disconnect is beneficial for mental wellbeing and productivity and reduces the chance of staff burnout. In an increasingly remote business world, it’s fundamental to maintain a distinction between work and life.

Overall staff morale and enthusiasm is likely to dwindle if employees feel overworked and lacking in rest, which can have negative repercussions for employee retention and company reputation. The right to disconnect enables employees not to feel guilty about not responding after hours and allows for a better overall work/life balance.

How can disconnecting be encouraged?

Despite the fact that the UK government currently does not intend to implement right to disconnect legislation, there are several actions that employers can take to tackle overworking.

It should be clearly communicated to employees that they won’t be penalised for not working beyond their contracted hours and companies should encourage their staff not to respond to or send work-related communications outside of those hours. Employees should be able to take adequate holiday and have at least one rest break in the day where they can step away from their desk. Employers also have a duty to check in on staff regularly to ensure their wellbeing is not adversely affected by work.

The benefits of disconnecting cannot be underestimated, for employers and employees alike, and the increasing recognition of this is encouraging moving forward. With remote working looking like it’s set to stay, avoiding staff burnout and setting boundaries is more important than ever.

Why demanding that young people return to the office isn’t the answer

Chancellor Rishi Sunak made headlines this week when he publicly aired his view that young people should return to the office, or risk damaging their long-term career prospects. For better or worse, these comments have sparked a great deal of debate across both employers and wider society, with public opinion divided across the board.

So, is encouraging younger workers – and, indeed, the workforce in general – back to the office en masse the answer? As with so many aspects of employee wellbeing, the answer is more nuanced than a simple yes or no.

There are without doubt many benefits to having members of the team in the office full-time, such as collaboration, creativity and overall workplace culture, which is naturally crucial for long-term engagement and success. However, for many employees there is also an opportunity cost to full-time office-based working and, indeed, many staff also saw a number of benefits from working remotely – which will be difficult to give up. For example, our recent Global Working from Home Survey found that staff were almost universally sleeping better with no commute to contend with, scoring this affirmation 8.6 out of 10.

Factoring in other benefits such as staff being able to tailor workspaces to their own needs, less need to arrange childcare and being able to save money on everyday expenses such as office lunches, and it becomes clear that a blunt-force approach to enforcing office-based working will not sit well with all.

For staff to return to the office, therefore, there must be some kind of incentive for them to do so – employers must provide more of the carrot, and less of the stick. For starters, the office could, and should, become more than simply a place to work, which we now know can be achieved just as effectively as at home in many cases. Employers should position the workplace as more of a hub in which teams can come together, collaborate and socialise, creating working experiences that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Rather than asking employees to come into work on specific days, employers could encourage them to come in for specific events, such as a lunchtime learning session, a team brainstorm, or even a more social event such as a teambuilding day or post-work drinks.

By doing this, the workplace offers staff something extra that they don’t get at home. Offices will then move away from being a burden to work from and more towards being a place staff actually want to visit because of the wellness benefits the workplace offers them – not merely because they feel they have to.

Looking outside the office, the daily commute – a recurrent pain point for staff – could also change. According to new research from transport technology specialist Kura, almost a third of employees (32.4%) spend more than an hour each day commuting to and from work each day, which is time many would prefer to spend with loved ones, pursuing personal passions, or organising life admin – not to mention the significant financial cost of commuting.

Given this, businesses that expect staff to return to the office could consider factoring commuting-related perks, such as season ticket loans and flexible working to beat the rush-hour traffic, into their overall benefits package. On this note, it may also be advisable to offer coaching to help employees with their personal finances, to help offset the increased costs of commuting and office life. For example, businesses could consider offering a savings programme, such as Wrkit’s Lifestyle Savings, to help employees spend less money.

Overall, moving forwards there will be no one-size-fits-all approach to either working patterns or employee wellness more widely, and businesses should not seek one. In order to ensure healthier, happier workplaces long-term, employees must be offered flexibility in how they work, as well as how they are supported, rewarded and recognised for the work they do.

To find out more about WRKIT’s suite of wellbeing and engagement products, please visit: https://wrkit.com/products/

Why Employers Must Be Wary Of Presenteeism In The “New Normal”

While a significant number of businesses are now beginning their phased return back to the office (or equivalent workspace), many more will have made the temporarily-enforced shift to remote working a permanent arrangement.

While this comes with a laundry list of benefits for the workforce such as improved sleep – please do check out our Global Working From Home Survey for the full story on this step-change – there may also be a resurgence in a very unhealthy working trend: presenteeism.

For those unfamiliar with presenteeism, you will likely be aware that, when ill, not every employee opts to take the time off they should. Whether out of an extreme work ethic, management pressures or worries over their advancement prospects if they take time off, they continue to show up for work despite feeling unwell, and are likely far less productive as a result. This, in a nutshell, is presenteeism.

Unfortunately, the issue of presenteeism appears to have been exacerbated by employees working remotely, meaning it is crucial for managers and team leaders to be vigilant. Recent research from the CIPD revealed that 77% of employers have observed presenteeism from employees working from home over the past year – with 43% of these admitting that they were taking no action to prevent it.

When employees are working from home, it is all-too-easy to hide illness or signs that something isn’t right mentally, and employers that do not recognise this and take appropriate action will, at best, run the risk of losing their top talent to a competitor and, at worst, see their staff put at serious risk of burnout and other mental health issues. 

So, what can employers do?

In order to minimise the risk of presenteeism, businesses must build an open, inclusive working culture wherein staff feel safe and supported. In this environment, if a member of staff feels unwell, or if they have an issue that may affect their work, they will feel comfortable taking the issue to their managers so that a solution can be found.

Particularly when working from home, staff still need to stay in regular contact with their managers, and to be encouraged to take the time off they need when they feel ill. Managers and more senior members of staff also need to lead by example and take the time off they need, when they need it.

Particularly for businesses that have made working from home their “new normal”, companies must take a preventative, rather than reactive approach to employee wellness, ensuring it is always front of mind throughout every facet of the business. By doing this, employers will enjoy a happier, more engaged workforce, while reducing the risk of presenteeism.

It’s a cliché, but that makes it no less true – people are the lifeblood of any business. Encourage their development, offer them the benefits that matter most to them and support them in sickness and in health, and your business will reap the rewards. To find out more about how Wrkit can support your company with its talent engagement and wellbeing strategy, visit www.wrkit.com.