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In today's work environment, the line between professional and personal time often blurs. It's essential to consider whether your team can truly disconnect from work when the day ends. The concept of the "Right to Disconnect" is gaining traction and may soon become law in several countries, including ours. 

The Legal Landscape 

Countries like Italy, France, and Portugal have already taken significant steps in this direction. In Portugal, for instance, it's illegal to contact your team outside of working hours, as many of our clients have now expanded into Portugal this point is of great relevance. Momentum is growing globally, and if the Labour Party get into power, it could see the UK gaining momentum much faster than earlier anticipated as they included the Right to Switch Off in their Green Paper on a new deal for working people. 

Understanding the Right to Disconnect 

The Right to Disconnect generally means that team members have a legal right to stop working at the end of their normal hours without facing penalties. This concept is a critical part of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. 

Existing Regulations 

The UK's Working Time Regulations 1998 protect the health, safety and wellbeing of your people. It sets out maximum weekly working hours, the right to rest and holidays periods amongst other things. There are limitations to this as people can choose to opt out where they see no other alternative. Many people will work voluntarily surpassing their working hours, such as responding to calls or emails outside of working hours. There are several reasons for individuals choosing to do this – perhaps they are not working effectively, maybe there is simply too much for them to complete in a reasonable timeframe or perhaps there a culture of responding as soon as an email pops in but in case, it’s unlikely to be good for wellbeing in the long run. 

Risks of Overwork 

People who feel pressured to work beyond their scheduled hours risk burnout and stress. They may feel penalised if they don't respond out of hours, leading to potential personal injury claims if they suffer psychiatric illness or stress. 
A recent legal case Alsnih v. Al Quds Al-Arabi Publishing & Advertising ruled that a journalist was unfairly dismissed for refusing to install a work-related app on her personal phone. The app was considered intrusive, and the journalist argued that it hindered her ability to separate her work and personal life. 
So, the risks are on your team member’s wellbeing, your business culture and legal risks of claims. 

Prevention: Avoiding an 'Always On' Culture 

Preventing the negative impacts of an 'always on' culture is crucial. Here are some top tips for managing this effectively: 
1. Clarify Working Hours Expectations: Set clear guidelines on contacting colleagues outside of working hours, tailored to specific roles. 
2. Conduct Surveys: Gather feedback from your team about their work-life balance and any pressures they feel to respond outside of hours. 
3. Review Policies: Ensure flexible and hybrid working policies support your teams' ability to disconnect and maintain a healthy balance. 
4. Adjust Practices & lead by example: Avoid sending late emails or making early calls. Use pre-timed emails to prevent messages from being received outside business hours. Include working hours in email signatures. 
5. Respect Personal Devices: Do not require your teams to use personal mobile devices for work-related communications. 
6. Avoid Penalising Non-Response: Do not take action against people who do not respond to work-related communications outside of normal working hours. 
7. Manage Stress and Wellbeing: Encourage practices such as taking rest breaks, having clear start and finish times, switching off equipment, taking screen breaks, communicating stress sources, and not working through illness. 
8. Supportive Management: Help your managers model a healthy work-life balance by setting realistic objectives and supporting them in achieving them. As well as leading by example! 

To summarise 

Creating a workplace that respects the Right to Disconnect goes beyond complying with current and potential laws and is about creating a culture where people feel at ease and ‘allowed’ to switch off. By implementing these practices, you can ensure a healthier, more productive, and happier place to work. Prevention is always better than cure in people management, and it's only right to prioritise the well-being of your teams – after all, they are the ones that drive your business forward. 
By Chloe Lander – People Director, HR Download 
Tagged as: Mental Health
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