Written by Heidi Wadsworth | 14th June 2021

For many, the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and personal life. For people working from home, it’s been easier to check emails in the evenings and at the weekends, or just do that extra piece of work after hours. This is fine, and perhaps even necessary, once in a while – but it shouldn’t be something your people feel they have to do all the time.

If your team (or you) find it difficult to switch off and are seeing an increase in working out of hours, the “right to disconnect” can be a way of keeping it under control.

What is a right to disconnect?

A right to disconnect reassures employees that it is fine for them to disconnect from work outside of normal working hours. They can turn off their phones, ignore emails and enjoy their free time away from work without being disturbed – unless there is an emergency or agreement to do so, for example while ‘on call’.

Of course, this is all agreed with the employer in  advance and should be clearly communicated and encouraged. In France the right to disconnect has been enshrined in law and our neighbours in Ireland were also granted the right under a new official code of practice in April 2021.

For now it is not enforced in the UK but there are still protections in place to prevent employees working excessive hours in the form of Working Time Regulations, as well as employers’ obligations under health and safety laws..

The team at Reality HR strongly believe it is beneficial for employers to set boundaries for staff and promote a better work-life balance.

Why explore this? Here are some of the benefits:

Avoid employee burnout

Employee burnout is real. Workplace burnout increased for 24% of the UK’s employees in 2020 and it’s only going to grow this year as working practices change again.

Covid-19 was a major cause of this, but that’s not to say people weren’t overworking before the pandemic hit. Exhaustion (emotional and physical) and increased stress and anxiety are just some of the things your employees could be experiencing.

Burnout isn’t just hard on your employees – it’s also hard on your business. It can cause a major drop in employee performance and productivity, and according to a 2021 Global Culture report, UK employees experiencing burnout take 68% more days off than normal to avoid work.

The right to disconnect works to counteract this. Not only can it help promote greater staff wellbeing, 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.

Help employees perform at their best

A well-rested employee is usually more prepared to go full steam ahead when it’s time to work. Employees who are ‘always on’ can feel stressed, which in turn can lead to poor quality of work and mistakes that can have a negative impact on your business.

With a right to disconnect, your employees are likely to come to work refreshed and motivated which will result in higher productivity during working hours.

How can I introduce this?

  1. Outline and communicate new working norms and practices

If you want to create a culture where people feel free to disconnect within your business, you need to have a policy or rules outlined in your employee handbook.

This should clearly and simply outline the rules and protocols regarding the employees’ right to disconnect. For example, at what time can they stop responding to emails and other work-related messages? If there’s a work-related emergency and an employee has to spend some of the weekend dealing with work issues, do they then get those hours off the following week?

Having this gives employees clear guidance on where, when, and how they have the right to switch off from work and increases the chances that they’ll actually take advantage of it.

Don’t forget to communicate any changes with your clients as well as colleagues. You could display you core working hours in your email signatures and advise clients/customers that emails will not be responded to outside of those core hours.

  1. Try not to schedule unnecessary meetings or tasks

Your team is going to have a hard time switching off from work if they’ve got too much on their to-do list. So, if you want your employees to disconnect, try to get avoid any unnecessary tasks and meetings, or spread out their workload over the week.

For example, if your employees are in back-to-back meetings all day, they’re not going to have time to manage their emails and work messages and will feel like they need to manage them after work.

When your employees feel like they can finish their work during the work day, they’re going to be less inclined to carry work into their off-hours and more likely to use it to rest and relax.

  1. Be an example

As an employer or manager you can encourage your employees to disconnect from work. But if they see that you’re working late every day, responding to emails at all hours, and checking in on weekends, they’re going to assume you expect the same from them.

If you truly want to create a culture that encourages a healthy work-life balance, you need to be seen to be leaving work at work! Then employees will follow suit.

Naturally, shutting down the office at the same everyday may not always be possible so you could try an ‘it can wait’ policy. Don’t make staff feel guilty by working outside of office hours, instead establish a policy that gives them the discretion to decide whether to respond to an after-hours email or task, or leave it until the next day. Consider that some people actually prefer to send emails in the evenings or on weekends. Be aware of the working hours of the person you are sending emails to, and don’t have any expectation that they will reply until they start their working day, as working hours can be different for everyone.

If you’d like support implementing a right to disconnect policy, get in touch with our team at [email protected].