Trade unions have been heavily criticising the Government for back peddling on their promise for better worker rights following the absence in the recent Queen’s speech of a long-awaited Employment Bill and, included within this, a Right to Disconnect clause.

The call from Unions for a Right to Disconnect clause to tackle the dark side of homeworking, follows the Republic of Ireland which in April introduced their own Right to Disconnect – a human right to allow people to digitally disconnect from work outside of non-work hours without facing negative repercussions.

A policy also supported by two thirds of remote workers according to Prospect as reports of stress, anxiety and employee burnout continue to rise, and one that’s ever more needed with the hybrid workplace here to stay for most. Just recently, the BBC reported that 43 of the 50 organisations they polled, who employ a combined 1.1 million of the UK workforce, do not plan to bring staff back to the workplace full time once Government Covid-19 restrictions ease, but will embrace a mix of home and office working.

Your Right to Disconnect policy

While we await any further news on any official legal Right to Disconnect being included in a forthcoming Employment Bill, the recent events are a reminder of the importance of keeping workplace cultures, policies and practices under constant review. This is especially true during periods of workplace transition such as we’ve seen during the pandemic, and now once again with many shifting to a more blended style of working, between office and home.

With hybrid working the focal point for most, law or no law, having a clear and transparent Right to Disconnect policy in place is essential today to help reinforce a good home-work-life balance and reinforce what the business expects from an employee.

The policy, which should be clearly communicated across the organisation and accessible to everyone, no matter location or device, should capture three main elements:

  • The right of an employee to not routinely perform work outside normal working hours
  • The right for an employee to not be penalised for refusing to work outside normal working hours and
  • A duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect

Workers need to know that they’ll not be discriminated, criticised, dismissed, or experience any other adverse actions by being allowed to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks – such as emails, phone calls or instant messaging – outside of working hours, including when they’re on holiday or any other form of leave.

Collaborate with employees

Ensuring that people follow the policy often requires breaking old habits and creating a culture of good work-life balance where employees aren’t feeling obligated to respond the call of the office, when away from work. A joint approach to developing a policy can help with this.

By collaborating with employees and negotiating with them on the terms of the policies, HR will get greater buy in and acceptance of the rules and boundaries agreed, while also helping them to understand the hurdles to disconnecting outside of hours. For example, does this interfere with flexible working options, do some like to work on matters outside of the distractions of the normal work day, does it throw up workload or staff shortage issues? Are there exceptional circumstances when this is allowed?

Capture all employees’ views whether office or home based or mobile, and also consider an employee’s own obligations too when developing the policy including: –

  • Employees must be able to manage their own working time
  • They must work with the employer in managing their own health and safety
  • They should utilise any systems to record working time when working remotely
  • They must be mindful of colleagues Right to Disconnect
  • And be aware and mindful of their own working patterns and manage their own breaks

Culture is key

While having a written Right to Disconnect policy is essential for determining boundaries, as the saying goes ‘actions speak louder than words’ which is where leadership and culture comes in – to ensure expected behaviours are reinforced and followed.

Train managers to have the confidence to reinforce appropriate behaviour around disconnecting from work and outside life, or to spot signs when an employees’ wellbeing could be struggling such as due to stress, long work hours or burnout. For example, has their mood changed, are they more irritable or angry, have levels of absenteeism or presenteeism increased, are they late or failing to attend scheduled calls? It’s important to encourage employees to open up and share their concerns, if you suspect they’re struggling.

An open and collaborative culture is the answer to creating a policy and culture where employee feel safe to disconnect from work or share their struggles without consequence – after all a happy workplace is a productive workplace which can only be a positive for the future growth of a business.