More than 35% of the UK's employed population worked from home at some point during the Covid-19 crisis, leading to an increase in unpaid overtime, causing a greater risk of health implications and distress.
As the complaints about work-life balance and its effects on mental health are growing louder, countries across the globe are starting to recognise it as a social issue and are beginning to introduce legal measures to protect people’s well-being.
A recent study by Autonomy, an independent think tank, found that women were 43% more likely to have increased their hours than men. New working patterns have placed a greater burden on those carrying out standard caregiving, which again has disproportionately impacted women.
In the UK, the trade union Prospect is calling for the government to provide employees with a legally binding “Right to Disconnect,” banning bosses from routinely emailing or calling outside of set working hours. The draft legislation, based on French law, is proposing amendments to the Employment Rights Act 1996. The report suggests that managers should “not require a worker to monitor or respond to any work-related communications or to carry out any work, outside the worker’s agreed working hours” or subject the worker to any detriment for failing to do so.
The always-on work culture is a substantial trigger for negative health implications – both mentally and physically. As Covid-19 accelerated the need to create better boundaries between work and home life, nearly 66% of remote workers are in favour of the legislation. Today, the employees expect a level of flexibility in the workplace. But for those who still favour more traditional working hours, lines have become blurred. A “Right to Disconnect,” alongside established core hours, would help restore healthy boundaries without the need to compromise family life, responsibilities, or hobbies. Consequently, the legislation would aim to improve the expectation of unpaid overtime and help to negate mental distress.
On the other hand, those who oppose the legislation (17% of remote professionals) fear that it would eradicate flexible working and reduce the efficiency of global enterprises. While the legislation would contain a set of exemptions, it cannot be tailored to everyone’s individual needs, approach and working style. Moreover, as the proposal will not be feasible for every sector, the enforcement element becomes another grey area, and eventually an obstacle for business growth.
For sustainable business growth, the leaders need to prioritise reducing the requirement to work outside agreed hours and encourage an open conversation about needs and expectations. Therefore, a “Right to Disconnect” could function as an opt-out legal requirement, with specific standards for different sectors. This flexibility is required in the financial industry to meet the client's needs in a different time zone or the care sectors where workers must remain on-call during evenings and weekends. A “Right to Disconnect” can and should be dynamic to empower the workforce and build a culture of trust, accountability and resilience.
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