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Masooma Memon

What is the Right to Disconnect?

You may have heard that some countries are enshrining the right to disconnect in law - but what does this mean, and why the focus on it now? Let's take a look.

As bitter as it is to admit this: the always-on, hustle culture sets unrealistic expectations from employees.

Work-life balance goes out the window, boundaries between work and personal life get stomped on. The idea of logging off for the weekend and staying logged off until Monday morning seems like a pipedream.

But what's the impact of this pressure? Increased employee burnout, and disengaged, demotivated people who can't perform at their best.

Fortunately, some governments are taking note. Around the world, right to disconnect legislation is being brought into place - meaning that employers who expect staff to be available after they clock off can expect a fine in return.

In this post, let’s look at these laws, their benefits, and what you can do to promote a "right to disconnect"-mindset in your organization. 

What is the right to disconnect?

The right to disconnect is about employees’ right to rest and turn off from work. Crucially, this includes not being expected to answer work emails and messages outside of their work hours.

This concept isn’t new. But it is increasingly coming into prominence as burnout rates soar and quiet quitting hits its highest in 2022.

Gallup even found only 23% of employees around the globe are thriving in their jobs. 46% of remote workers are even disengaged at work according to the same survey.

What are the benefits of having a right to disconnect?

Right to disconnect legislation is a great way to protect employees from organizations that expect their staff to be available for communication outside of regular work hours.

As employees and employers set healthy personal boundaries, research confirms everyone can benefit from increased productivity, reduced risk of burnout, and fewer mistakes at work. In turn, this contributes to helping you retain employees better.  

Essentially, when workers can’t fully disconnect, they can’t fully refresh, which creates concerns like disengagement at work, quiet quitting, and increased work stress.

Thankfully, a right to disconnect policy can help organizations tackle all these issues. It can also increase trust between employers and employees, boost morale, and reduce overwhelm and anxiety that stems from an always-on work culture. 

Countries with right to disconnect laws

Legislation around the right to disconnect is most prominent in several countries in the European Union than anywhere else at the time of writing this. 

In Africa, Kenya is becoming the first country to consider such a law. But there’s no such consideration in the US, where the always-on work style still prevails.

Here’s a quick rundown of countries with the right to connect laws: 

Kenya is the latest country to consider the law

Kenya has proposed the Employee (Amendment Bill) which aims to prevent employers from expecting employees to respond to any work-related communication outside of work hours, on public holidays, and on weekends.

The bill would also fine employers up to $4,000 if they break the rules. Employers with 10+ employees would also need to consult trade unions or staff about out-of-work policies.

Philippines filed a “Workers’ Rest Law” in January 2022

This bill seeks to set regular working hours to no more than 8 hours per day. Any time outside the normal working hours would be considered as an employee’s rest hours. Employers violating this rule will be fined. 

Ontario, Canada has had a right to disconnect law since June 2022

The law, part of the Working for Workers Act 1, requires businesses with a 25+ headcount to have a written policy that allows employees to disconnect during non-work hours.

Belgium passed a law in Feb 2022 for its public-sector employees

According to this law, civil servants can now switch off all work emails, phone calls, and texts outside of their work hours without any fear of reprisals. Belgium is currently making plans to extend the new laws to private sector employees as well.

Ireland has a Code of Practice in place since 2021

Ireland’s right to disconnect practice centers around three main elements:

👉 A right to not work routinely outside of working hours

👉 A right to not be penalized for refusing to work outside of work hours

👉 And, a duty to respect another’s right to disconnect 

While this code isn’t legally binding yet, it can used in evidence against organizations in breach-of-employee-rights claims 

Portugal has a “right to rest” law since November 2021

Portugal’s right to disconnect legislation goes by the “right to rest” law. It fines employers with 10 or more employees for contacting them outside of set working hours. 

Spain created a remote work law to promote work-life balance in 2018

Spain released a remote working law in December 2018 which highlights workers’ right to disconnect and encourage proper work-life balance. As with other legislation, this one also requires employers and staff to agree to a specific time to pause all work-related communication. 

France was the pioneer with its 2016 work-life balance legislation

France enacted their right to disconnect legislation in the summer of 2016, allowing workers to switch off their phones and other devices outside of set working hours. Companies with 50+ employees are also required to make a “charter of good conduct” specifying hours when staff can’t send or receive work emails. 

How can you explore the right to disconnect in your organization

Considering work-life balance is important in several ways, including improving workers’ mental and physical well-being and building healthy teams, consider taking the following steps:

1. Clearly define work hours with your employees

The first step is to have a written policy that specifies what “regular” work hours are for your workplace. 

Make sure you clearly point out the hours when employees and employers should hold back from emailing and expecting replies to their work communications. 

2. Lead by example

81% of remote workers claim they check their work email outside of work hours. 63% do so on weekends and 34% when they’re on vacation. 22% even admit unplugging from work is their biggest challenge when working remotely according to the same survey.

The solution then is to lead by example.

For instance, don’t reply to employee emails outside of set work hours. Managers can also support employees who struggle with poor work-life balance habits by reminding them that they’re communicating outside of work hours when they see them checking emails on their vacation, for example. 

3. Set and share realistic expectations

Employees can only unplug from work when they know their team members or managers aren’t expecting fast replies. This makes it vital for companies to proactively take steps to build a company culture centered around wellness.

For instance, your employees should know that it’s okay to respond within, say 3 days rather than 3 hours — as long as they’re meeting their goals.

Key takeaway 

In short, the right to disconnect promotes wellness and reduces burnout. It also increases employee engagement, which delivers long-term benefits for organizations. 

If there’s no labor law on disconnecting from work where you are, there's still steps that you can take to tackle the unhealthy always-on mindset. After all, in order to enjoy being part of positive, productive, joyful organizations, we should all be making an effort to respect each other's boundaries and personal time.

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