Employers beware – the Right to Disconnect is here

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As more of us continue to work from home, increasing attention is being placed on the Right to Disconnect. Jo Davies of Middesbrough’s HR Alchemy considers the implications…

So, what does this mean?

The Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) have published information recently on the Right to Disconnect. The introduction of this right sees that employees are able to disconnect from work when their contractual hours are fulfilled.

The requirement for the introduction of such an explicit right is undoubtedly a result of such a huge number of employees working from home, usually on devices provided to them by their employers.

As the pandemic has continued, this style of working has become the ‘new norm’, and it is clear that a precedent has been set, with many staff finding it difficult to switch off and increasingly working out of hours.

The need for the Right to Disconnect has come at, what I believe, the perfect time as we begin to navigate our way back to normality.

A recent survey by Opinium of 2,428 people working from home was enlightening. “I feel like I am living from work rather than working from home,” one said.

Another commented: “I enjoy working from home but because I have no change of environment it can be hard to forget about work tasks.”

Our neighbours in Ireland, have recently introduced a code of practice for organisations on how to implement the Right to Disconnect, which has three key points:

• The right of an employee to not 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 (eg by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours).

Generally, it is always advisable to not expect employees to work outside of their contractual hours routinely, as this may be classed as a breach of terms and breach of trust with employees, as well as fostering an unwanted culture within your organisations, and the right to disconnect not only imposes this, but also goes one step further.

It actually prevents contact from management, colleagues and clients by giving employees the right to switch off and log off (by setting out-of-office responses when they’re not available).

Not only does the right to disconnect prohibit out-of-hours contact, it also actively encourages employees to only respond when they’re back at work.

It is time to reframe the idea that it is beneficial to an organisation for staff to work outside of their contracted hours, as this approach is dated and extremely damaging.

A culture of unproductivity can be created, due to staff burn out and disillusionment. It can also cause work-life balance to be threatened, and result in stress/anxiety and a less productive workforce. This can also lead to staff retention issues and a drop in morale, which are both very harmful for an organisation.

The right to disconnect aims to counteract this way of working and it aims to not only encourage, but expect staff to switch off when they’re outside of their working hours.

Not only would it cultivate greater staff engagement and wellbeing, it would also be an effective way for organisations to take that extra step and demonstrate care for its employees. This is something, it is believed, would help retain staff and attract new employees.

The Opinium survey also stated that 35 per cent of remote workers said their work-related mental health had worsened during the pandemic, while 30 per cent said they were working more unpaid hours than before, with 18 per cent reporting at least four additional unpaid hours a week. Overall the survey found that 66 per cent of those working remotely would also support a right to disconnect policy.

The UK government have not indicated plans to introduce the right to disconnect as a legal requirement. However, as more organisations explore ways in which staff can continue to work from home on a more permanent basis, it may be something organisations wish to explore. Introducing a right to disconnect could prove very appealing for those who are considering leaving and for those who are considering joining your organisation.