Should we all have the right to disconnect?

The prospect of a UK General Election in 2024 means we may see new items on the agenda which businesses will need to navigate this year, in addition to any legislative updates already on the calendar. Employee wellbeing is high…

Michael Black, author of blog about the right to disconnect

Blog26th Mar 2024

By Michael Black

The prospect of a UK General Election in 2024 means we may see new items on the agenda which businesses will need to navigate this year, in addition to any legislative updates already on the calendar.

Employee wellbeing is high on the agenda for political parties, and we can look to other countries for inspiration on what could be done here in the UK. One topical change we’ve seen is around the theme of the “Right to Disconnect.”

What is the right to disconnect?

The increase in flexibility at work with more and more employees working from home has blurred the lines between personal and work life.  It can be difficult to separate work and life when you’re working from home which brings a consideration for the ‘right to disconnect’.

It seeks to protect workers health and wellbeing from things like burnout and mental health problems caused by stress by putting in place strong policies and legislation for organisations to follow. Employees are given ‘permission’, to disengage from work outside of their normal working hours. As a result, once employees are off the clock they should not receive or be required to answer any work-related calls, messages, or emails. Effectively allowing employees to revert back to a time, where when you left the office you did not have access to your emails again until the next morning.

Should we all have the right to disconnect?

With ever increasing countries moving closer to giving their workforce the ability to outright refuse to take on any more work once their workday has ended, similar laws are already in place with our European neighbours (France, Italy, and Belgium) and Australia is looking to be the next country in line to pass a bill in Government.

The Australian Prime Minister recently said referencing their recent proposed bill:-

“We are simply saying someone who is not paid 24 hours a day, shouldn’t be penalised if they’re not online and available 24 hours a day.”

Why is the right to disconnect important?

The right to disconnect aims to create a new shared approach to work communication that will not hinder flexible working. At the same time, it allows people to switch off to their workday outside of their working hours.

Work-life balance is a phrase we often hear. People want to work to live and not live to work, which is perfectly understandable. The right supports employees to have a better work-life balance which allows for everyone in an organisation to truly excel. Enabling employees to bring their best and most productive self to work each day is something employers should strive to achieve.

It isn’t just about enacting policies or regulations; it’s about fostering a cultural shift that prioritises work-life balance and mental well-being.  Without a cultural change, simply mandating time away from work devices may not effectively address the underlying issues of overwork and burnout. Embracing the RTD means acknowledging that employees are more productive and healthier when they have time to recharge outside of work hours.

Benefits of promoting a healthy work-life balance

Encouraging a healthy work/life balance can help to boost your organisations reputation. A positive reputation can help you to attract and retain top talent. We know it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for employers to attract and retain, not forgetting the costs to recruit, both monetarily and time invested in training new employees.

Could the UK implement the right to disconnect?

While Australia is looking to implement this now it is not a novel concept. In fact, France was the first country to implement the right to disconnect in 2017. It is something that has been implemented in multiple countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Canada. In each country, the law is slightly different.

The UK Labour party previously stated that they would like to legislate a right to disconnect policy. It’s likely that their manifesto for the general election this year will be largely focused on employees and the workplace, knowing that it’s something current workforces regard as highly important.

The right to disconnect vs the 4-day working week

The case for the right to be implemented is not too dissimilar to the case for a 4-day working week. While there’s pros and cons to both it does raise the question, are we missing an opportunity to revolutionise and redesign our approach to the way we work, whilst building a culture of employee wellbeing? With more countries implementing these laws it shows that there has been a shift, and more importance is being placed on employee wellbeing.

The UK implementing the right to disconnect will not fix wellbeing. Why? Because wellbeing cannot be fixed by one singular action, it needs continued effort, and to be weaved through the framework of every organisation. It would however be a continued step in the right direction.

If you have any queries about how to create a work life balance for your team or implementing a 4 day working week, please do not hesitate to get in contact with Michael Black, or your usual AAB People contact.

 

 

 

By Michael Black

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