Should employees have the right to disconnect?

At a time when everyone is feeling overwhelmed agreeing on how to communicate will be fundamental to how we move forward in the workplaces of the future.

 

There’s pressure to check emails, jump on video calls, and be on hand at all hours of the day and night. It’s becoming harder for many to draw a line between work and home life. The phase are we living in work or working from home is the catchphrase of the pandemic. Countries such as France and Germany have already recognised that excessive out of hours contact is detrimental to our well-being and led the way on the right to disconnect.

In 2012, German car manufacturer Volkswagen took action to block their company’s Blackberry servers from sending emails 30 minutes after the end of employees’ shifts. Emails were then set to resume 30 minutes before the next shift. This applied to employees working under Trade Union contracts. Daimler took more intensive action and  set up software protocols that delete emails sent to employees who are away from work.

In France in 2017, employees were given the “right to disconnect” with the onus put on the employer to regulate the practice. This is to ensure employees get a break from the office, and is a move that French unions campaigned for a number of years. The U.K. company Rentokil were fined €60,000, for breaching an employees “right to disconnect” outside office hours.

This has now been followed by the E.U. and in January 2021 the E.U. Parliament called upon the Commission to propose legislation that “enables those who work digitally to disconnect outside their working hours. It should also establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarify working conditions, hours and rest periods.”

right to disconnect

3 questions raised

Communication style is part of workplace culture as well as the leadership style of individual managers. It raises three core questions.

1. Level of empathy

The first that if legislation is needed to regulate managers does this suggest that companies don’t care about their employees and  how a recipient might feel when receiving emails at all hours of the night? This could be a more basic cultural issue around command and control management style and expecting immediate responses when technically out of office. It indicates low levels of empathy.

Read: We need Chief Empathy Officers

2. True flexibility

If an organisation is committed to a truly flexible culture, employees can work and respond when they choose as long as they produce results. This will fit in with their time zones and optimal activity levels. In a properly flexible workplace there will be people who like to work early mornings or late at night, for whatever reason. Leaders will not pay lip service and offer people the option to be flexible and then micro-manage them. This will be especially true as more and more jobs become remote globally.

 

right to disconnect

Read:  9 daily habits to create boundaries

3. Is email the best option?

This is very topical as people are also trying to reduce the amount of time they spend on Zoom. I am seeing a number of people calling for “async” communication, which is jargon for email! They are asking  – can we do this off an online call. V.C. can now mean voice call as well as video call.

The need to find the right level and style of communication is going to be an important part of the discussion in the post-pandemic workplace. This will be around increased remote and flexible working and mental and physical well-being.

Important considerations

  • Be intentional. Set aside pre-published times for responding to emails.
  • Indicate you don’t expect an immediate response with an appropriate footer such as this:
    **I respect boundaries around personal time, well-being, and caretaking. If you receive email from me at a time when you’re engaging in the above, please protect your time and respond when you’re next working. Prioritize health, not email, when and where you can.”
  • Establish better email protocols – reducing the number of people in copy and differentiating between those who are expected to take action from those receiving information.
  • Reduce the amount of email and paying attention not to flood employees in-boxes the moment they log on at the start of their day.

While we talk about operational needs general well being will be part of the discussion.  The right to disconnect will be on the agenda at a corporate and even government level.

 

Do you want to manage your boundaries better? Contact 3Plus now!

 

Staff Writer: Career Contributor
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