On the 1st January 2017, France took the radical step forward of establishing “the right to disconnect” for organisations of more than 50 employees, and whilst the UK has not yet followed suit, this proposed human right is an issue that all employers should be aware of.

Work/life balance

Modern-day business and life in general has a focus on technology, and specifically the ability to contact employees, and clients, whenever and wherever, through the use of mobile devices. Email, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, and texting are just a few of the ways that we stay in touch and transmit a message to a device which is kept in the receiver’s pocket, bag, hand. Whilst we may not think it is suitable to call a colleague at 9 pm on a Sunday night, we do not hesitate in sending an email and will not be surprised when we receive an answer within five minutes. Yet the overuse of digital devices can be and has been blamed for stress, fatigue, poor customer service, relationship issues, and burnout.

The increase in flexible working has resulted in an almost “always working” culture leaving employees unclear on what expectations are and fearing that if they do not respond, they may lose flexible working arrangements. Pressure from colleagues forces almost constant monitoring of work email whether during the evening, weekend or even when on holiday.

France’s legislation

The legislation in France means that companies need to negotiate with employees on their “right to disconnect” to protect their personal lives and where an agreement can not be reached, the company must have a policy which clearly defines what is expected of employees out of hours. Some large companies, such as Volkswagen and Axa, have already introduced policies to reduce out-of-hours contact, without the need for legislation telling them to do so.

As an employer, the question to ask yourself is what can you afford?

  • Can you afford to wait until working hours to discuss a work issue?
  • Can you afford to lose a key member of your team through stress-related absence, or to a competitor who recognises the importance of work-life balance and encourages the right to disconnect?

Our HR tips include:

  • Be aware of individual needs – for example, some people may need to have the flexibility not to work 3 – 5 pm due to family commitments, but want to work 7 – 9 pm to replace that time;
  • Understand the importance of employees being able to “not work” and feel comfortable and secure there will be no repercussions from that decision. Have the discussion and agree on a policy that suits the needs of the business and the needs of the team and maintain that culture;
  • Lead from the top – if the CEO is sitting on the beach responding to messages, reading Board papers and issuing instructions, then the senior management team will follow suit and so on throughout the organisation;
  • Consider whether a digital ban is appropriate – you can opt digitally for your systems not to allow emails to be sent or received during certain periods, or if an employee is on leave, for the sender to receive an out of office but also a bounce back. This not only allows the right to disconnect but stops the employee returning to work to find an overflowing inbox to deal with.

This is an important issue to consider and manage for the health and effectiveness of your team, even without legislation.

If you would like help reviewing the impact of out of hours working in your organisation, and identifying a solution to change and improve your culture, please do give us a call. We provide outsourced HR support that has a really positive impact on your business and can provide the HR support and advice that you need. Call us on 01473 360160 to discuss how we can support you.

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