No switching off | CEO says he once hiked a worker's pay so he could call him at 1AM

CEO says he once hiked a worker's pay so he could call him at 1AM

A CEO has revealed he offered an employee a pay rise so he could get away with calling him in the dead of night. 

Business Insider recently reported on the actions of Peter Brown, head of investment management firm Renaissance Technologies, who was speaking on a recent episode of the "Exchanges at Goldman Sachs” podcast.

During the discussion, Brown shed light on a time when he needed an answer from an employee. There was just one problem, it was past midnight and, as a colleague pointed out, the worker didn’t earn nearly enough money to deserve being woken up.

The solution? Offer the worker more money on the spot.

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Brown explained: "It was around 1 o'clock in the morning and I picked up the phone to call him. And Jim says to me, 'Wait. You can't call this guy in the middle of the night. He doesn't make enough money.' 

“So, I said, 'Fine. How about this? I'll call him. I'll tell him we're going to give him a raise. And then ask him our question.'"

"And so, that's what we did," he said.

Brown said it was common for him to contact staff late at night, and that he would often sleep in the office, stating: "I'm just one of those types who can't sleep. Not by choice," he said. "I often am on the computer by around 2 a.m. And it's true, I tend to send a lot of emails out in the middle of the night."

‘Right to disconnect’

In the era of flexible working, it’s increasingly common for employees to wake up to emails that colleagues have sent late the night before, or even in the small hours of the morning. However, these messages are usually accompanied by a polite reminder that, while they had sent the email outside of normal working hours, under no circumstances did they expect a reply at an unreasonable time.

However, it’s a lot harder to ignore a phone call from your millionaire boss at 1am. And while a pay rise might soften the blow of being woken up in the middle of the night to discuss a work issue, for many employees, being contacted outside of usual working hours is a growing problem, and in recent years, demand has risen for new laws around a ‘right to disconnect’.

Alongside trade union Prospect, thinktank Autonomy has previously called for greater legislative protections for workers, proposing legislation that would create a ‘right to disconnect’. And such plans are now backed by the Labour Party which, should they win next year’s general election, has vowed to restrict bosses from contacting employees outside of working hours.

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Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner has said the party will look to implement "right to switch off" legislation should it win the next election.

The move would restrict managers from contacting their staff by phone or email outside of normal working hours.

And such a move could help ease growing mental health problems in the workplace, according to an employment law expert.

Katherine Cooke, a Senior Associate at West Midlands law firm Higgs LLP, said: “I have seen a significant rise in sickness absence due to mental health issues since the pandemic.

“It is a challenge for employers to manage members of staff on prolonged absence. Increased homeworking has also blurred the barriers between work and home life and improved technology means a lot of people feel pressured to always be available.”

Like Angela Rayner, Katherine accepts there will be times when some out of hours contact is required, and certain industries may require exemptions.

The policy is one of many that will form part of Labour’s “new deal for working people” and it is reported it will be in the party’s general election manifesto.

Since 2017 French employees have had the right to disconnect phones and laptops outside of working hours and can demand additional pay for any work carried out outside of normal working hours.

Other countries including Italy, Spain and Portugal have also introduced rules with a similar aim to encourage employees to switch off.

Katherine said: “If this right was introduced through legislation it would give employers pause for thought before they phone or email their staff doing holidays, weekends and evenings. It would set behavioural expectations. It may also be a positive step to reduce the risk of employee burnout.

“It remains to be seen how this right would be introduced by a prospective Labour government, and what mechanism employees would have to enforce this right. All employment lawyers will be keeping a keen eye on the detail of any proposal.”

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