The right to disconnect

7th June 2021

The trades union, Prospect, has called for the government to give employees a legally binding ‘right to disconnect’ at the end of the working day – the right not to pick up the phone or respond to emails – effectively, the right to stop working.

As many of us will be all too familiar, working remotely (and more to the point, from home) sees the line between work and home life blur. Naturally, many of us have been putting in more hours than when we were in the office – we have more time, and possibly because of this, expectations have shifted. Expectations around the speed at which we respond to others or requests (perhaps worse in a culture where there is a lack of trust), which meetings you join (outside of core hours but in lockdown where else do you have to be?!), how late you work etc.

The balance between work and ‘life’ can be a difficult balance to strike, but rest and play are just as important as work when it comes to being able to sustain a healthy state of wellbeing. And that means it is important to be able to disconnect from work when the day is done.

But do we need a law to enforce that? Enforcing the ‘right to disconnect’ doesn’t address the root cause of the issue. The behaviour causing the demand for this law comes from an organisation’s culture. One that might for example, lack in trust or be unconcerned with employee wellbeing. Enforcing the right to disconnect will just see these behaviours, driven by a dysfunctional culture, manifested in different ways. For example, will employees who stay connected be treated more favourably than those who disconnect?

And how does that align with the desire from many of us for more flexibility?

To allow flexibility in when and how work gets done, means that for some this is starting the work day early, and for others it is finishing the work day late. This then has implications from a practical standpoint. As discussed earlier, over the course of the pandemic, many of us have switched to a more flexible way of working. If for example you and your manager have different timetables, there may only be a small window where you are both working at the same time. Does this mean you can only speak to your manager in a 3-hour period every day? If this is not managed correctly, could we see a reduction in the flexibility we have seen a rise in over the pandemic?

Organisations must be mindful of employee wellbeing and the effects that over-working can have on this – burnout has become somewhat of a buzzword recently, but not without its reasons – while also allowing employees more flexibility and control in how and when they do their work (role and circumstances permitting).

Flexibility done right is beneficial to both the employee and the organisation. Done wrong, and it could be a detriment to both. How will your organisation manage flexible working going forwards? Are there any behaviours being modelled in your organisation that need to be eliminated? And which need to be encouraged?