Work-life balance | Respecting personal boundaries beyond work hours

Respecting personal boundaries beyond work hours

In today's hyper-connected world with the constant torrent of emails, Teams messages and other notifications, it may seem to some like they are always “at work”, even when they're not actually at work.

Under plans drawn up and announced recently by Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, in the future your boss could be blocked from messaging you outside of work. Obviously for this to be implemented Labour must win a majority in the next general election and then this could be part of their “New Deal for Working People”.

“Right to Switch off” or “Right to Disconnect”

This is nothing new and has already come into legislation in several European countries and many others are reportedly now considering such legislation, especially since the recent upsurge of working from home.

There have been a number of methodologies used across Europe including:

France was the first European country to introduce legislation in January 2017 when it legally required employers to negotiate agreements with unions.

Italy followed later in 2017 with legislation stating that only remote workers have the right to disconnect from technological devices and from online platforms without suffering any consequences. In addition, there are also sectoral and company collective agreements.

In 2018 Spanish workers, in both the private and public sectors, were given the right to disconnect to maintain their work life balance.

In the same year Belgium followed with legislation making it compulsory for employers, with more than fifty employees, to discuss the issue of disconnection and the use of digital communications with their workplace health and safety committee. Later, in 2022, civil servants became legally allowed to switch off work emails, texts and phone calls received out of hours, with further possible plans now being discussed to extend this to the private sector.

In April 2021, rather than full legislation, a new code of practice was announced in Ireland that meant all employees officially had the right to disconnect from work. Employees gained the right to effectively switch off from work outside of normal working hours and wait to respond to emails, telephone calls or other messages. They should not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours and could not to be penalised for refusing.

Later in December 2021, Portugal introduced a new right to privacy which stipulates employers must refrain from contacting employees during their rest period, except in case of force majeure, with a significant fine if they do so.

The EU parliament itself has also had some discussion surrounding legal framework of right to disconnect, but nothing overall has yet been introduced.

As is seen by these different approaches, it’s clearly not as straightforward as the simple headline implying once you leave work you become invisible. But notwithstanding the complexity, there still may be something in the right to disconnect from work-related communication, including emails, calls and other forms of digital correspondence. It involves establishing clear boundaries that delineate work time from personal time, allowing you to enjoy uninterrupted moments of rest, relaxation and fulfilment in personal time. This allows individuals to replenish their mental energy, which, in turn, enhances focus and productivity during working hours.

This delineation can foster a culture of respect, employers send a powerful message to their employees that their well-being and personal lives are valued. In turn this contributes to a healthier work environment, improved employee morale and increased loyalty and commitment to the organisation.

Irrespective of whether Labour take their place in Government it can be useful for organisations to establish clear policies in this area. These should be specifically designed for each business or even business area. Guidelines can help establish a mutual understanding but should not completely disallow contact. Within each organisation there will be roles, that due to risk to the business involved in non-response, mean they must be contactable. Taking this to the extreme, imagine this headline right, of being disconnected, taken at its word for any governmental organisation. Therefore, perhaps, making it unable to react to a major incident as the Minister is not at work and cannot be disturbed!

Likewise, there may clearly be instances where individuals would simply wish to be informed about major occurrences as early as possible to allow them to react in a timely manner when back at work. This may be especially important in businesses that cover different time zones or operate on a 24/7 basis. Even if legislation exists, as in some EU countries, stipulating that lack of reaction must have no consequence, then clearly if employees are more informed before work hours they may be more productive and likely to succeed.

As in most things the headline and reality are not in step

A balanced approach is required, recognising and respecting personal boundaries will allow individuals to disconnect from work related demands and focus on their personal lives. But, there could be occasions or roles that may still require this contact at times.

Flexible working, working from different locations, whether at home or peripatetic, all add complications to this issue and would have to be understood and dealt with properly. Flexible shift patterns may add further hurdles in defining what are non-working hours – do we have the right to inform people of changes to shift requirements whilst they are away from work? This might not be a requirement for many but with some very agile workplaces it may be essential.

As with many aspects of working time in our complicated work environment it is essential that people be able to recognise work attendance and time off commitments.

Without this, alongside today’s mobile communications, any perception of where these boundaries lie becomes an impossibility.

Crown’s Workforce Management system can help you understand in real time who is at work, on-call, or in a position where they should be disconnected from work, except in the case of force majeure. This better awareness can help maintain these boundaries between work and home life allowing more effective management of your people and improving this positive distinction. Our solution is fully configurable, so no matter what your complexities it will be able to help you manage it effectively.

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