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The Right to Disconnect

04 February 2021 by Finlay Barry
Blog Right To Disconnect

What is the Right to Disconnect, why does it matter, and what we can do about it?

The right to disconnect is an issue we are increasingly being confronted with. The temptation to fall back on an “always on” culture and for employees to respond to emails late into the evening can easily become the status quo. This can have an exaggerated impact when we are working remotely on different personal schedules.  

Speaking with team managers and leaders of organisations a concern of many is fostering a culture of empowering employees to practice the right to disconnect

What is “The Right to Disconnect”?

According to EouroFound, an EU agency focused on the improvement of working conditions for citizens, the right to disconnect “refers to a worker’s right to be able to disengage from engaging in work-related electronic communications during non-work hours.” 

Believe it or not, this is a proposed statutory right (!) and in France has been enshrined in law by supreme court rulings stating an “employee is under no obligation either to accept working at home”. Now the EU as a whole is looking at putting this into legislation which will no doubt bring solutions and perhaps some problems to the virtual world we find ourselves in. 

As it stands, there is currently no legislated “right to disconnect”. Credit must be given to several organisations but in particular, AIB, who in a high profile move introduced their own policy of guiding principles for remote working and disconnecting from work after hours. 

Leo Varadkar, Minister for Enterprise, Trade, and Employment has tasked Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) with designing a code of practice on an employee’s right to disconnect from work. The Irish Workplace Relations Commission is undertaking a public consultation with a view to drafting a Code of Practice on the ‘’Right to Disconnect’’. There is no set deadline for the WRC to publish their filings, but they hope to have initial findings in 2021.  

Late in 2020, both Sinn Féin and Labour introduced bills that would give workers a legal ‘right to disconnect’ so I think it is safe to say we will see some guidance published by the government in 2021. 

Why does it Matter? 

While there are countless benefits of remote working, the lines between work-life and home have been blurred. People are spending longer hours at their desks, which may be down to a dip in productivity due to remote working, and this is resulting in the real threat of burnout amongst staff. 

Aside from the fatigue, decrease in moral, productivity, and attrition this causes in organisations it can result in legitimate health consequences. This can include hypertension, digestive troubles, heart complications, and chronic aches and pains. Habitual stress can negatively impact mental health as it is linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. 

Now more than ever before employees are seeking a purpose and a sense of fulfilment in their work. This is driving them towards organisations who value personal development inside and outside the organisation. 

I believe that an important determinant of a firm’s future prospects of attracting quality talent lies in their ability to formulate a purpose that is aligned to that of their staff and will include a “right to disconnect” policy or guidelines.

What can we do about it? 

The first step in solving a problem is identifying it and accepting it as an issue. Some favour a culture shift over company policies but I say there is no harm in aiming for both! Creating a culture where employees feel comfortable disconnecting is everyone’s responsibility within an organisation

Taking steps to help staff turn-off and fostering a culture of “the right to disconnect” can be challenging however there are simple techniques people can use. We’ve outlined 3 small, actionable steps you can take below. 

1. See relaxation and recovery as investment

Relaxation and recovery can be a purposeful way to improve your productivity in work rather than being seen as neglecting work. I know we have all had those days we have worked late into the late evening and you wake up the next day not feeling as productive as you could be. If you switched off an hour or two the night before could you have squeezed that work into the next day? Maybe. 

2. Think about the people around you

Everyone appreciates the person on the team who is available 24/7. I am guilty myself of both sending and answering emails late at night. But not everyone is the same and others need that time to decompress or spend time with their families. Optics in an organisation matter, especially if you are a leader. Sending emails after working hours can create a culture where people feel compelled to reply and do the same. A handy trick for this is scheduling emails to send in the morning. If you don’t need the response that day, most email providers now have a scheduling tool where you can send an email at a predetermined time. Give it a try! 

3. Create a barrier – Disconnect! 

This is nothing revolutionary but turning off your computer, logging out of work programs, email, deleting work apps from your phone, and turning off notifications can have a huge positive impact. This creates a physical disconnect but also a mental one. I know the peace of mind I get when I log off completely in the evening and sign out of all work programs is huge, especially on a Friday! 

In conclusion, I believe having a “right to disconnect” policy is going to be an essential part of a company code as we continue to work in this new virtual world. But like everything in life, where possible a degree of flexibility and discretion must be applied. 

If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me –

Email me – f.barry@masonalexander.ie

Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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