Less than a decade after a French ambulance driver was fired for not taking phone calls from his boss when he was off-schedule, France passed legislation called “Right to Disconnect.” In essence, employees have the right to disconnect from work calls, emails, texts, and other communication outside of their normal work hours. It protects workers from being fired if they don’t respond during their time off.
Since France first enacted “Right to Disconnect,” other countries have followed suit. Italy, Spain, and Ireland have enacted legislation, and the European Union is considering adopting it as well. This trend is also spreading to North America, with Ontario on the cusp of enacting a similar law. But with today’s remote worker status and flexible hours, the lines between work and personal life are blurring, making it hard to enforce legislation. Today’s knowledge workers may not have a physical separation between work and non-work, resulting in gray areas that need addressed.
Will the U.S. adopt “Right to Disconnect” laws?
Our culture of work hard, play hard is central to the decision to enact legislation. For many, working all hours is a source of pride and ambition. For others, it’s a source of burnout, causing employees to leave their jobs in search of better working conditions elsewhere. A recent LinkedIn survey found 83% of 7,612 responders think workers should have the right to disconnect, while only 3% felt it unnecessary. A full 14% of responders think it should depend on the job.
Some U.S. employers are enacting their own policies on work/life balance. Zensurance banned communication or meetings before 9am and after 5pm. While Zensurance has clear-cut policies, others might find it more difficult to enact policies and procedures. Some companies have identified individuals who must be on-call 24/7 to handle emergencies, like a cyber attack or a system failure. But what’s central to business operations changes between U.S. companies.
As the scope of work has changed thanks to COVID-19, more remote workers require more efforts to identify the line between work and personal time. Employee churn is a critical problem in The Great Resignation, and many of the reported causes have to do with work-life balance. It’s not as cut and dried to identify an 8-hour work schedule for a remote worker who has the flexibility to work anytime, anywhere. And that’s the big stumbling block for the U.S. to enact “Right to Disconnect” laws. With so many alternative work scenarios, what does “fair” look like?
What will it take for the U.S. to enact “Right to Disconnect?” Companies with a younger management structure are finding it essential to enact policies offering a better work/life balance. For example, younger CEOs with families are decreasing their hours worked and extending the same arrangement to all their workers. “Right to Disconnect” policies and procedures are growing organically from the top down. It’s up to management to model the behaviors and culture that will help workers go off-grid during their downtime. Companies are finding this issue is a deal breaker for many employees.
What can you do to address “Right to Disconnect?”
Some companies are at the forefront of protecting employees from overwork and burnout. In 2012, Volkswagen completely blocked emails for certain staff between the evening hours until the morning. Countries that enacted “Right to Disconnect” laws are fining organizations for disregarding it. For example, a pest control firm was ordered to pay 60,000 euros ($71,000 USD) for violating the rules.
Corporate lawyers are increasingly being asked to craft policies and procedures to meet “Right to Disconnect” issues. While early adopters already have rules in place, others are waiting to see how these rules shake out in real life. There are actions you can take to help you determine the right path. For instance, survey your employees to find out how many are interested in work/life balance. Some type A personalities are determined to work more than anyone else, but most workers want a hard line between personal time and work time.
Another option is to create scenarios of what the “Right to Disconnect” could look like for each job description. Then offer these alternatives to your employees for their input on what would be the optimal business model. Getting feedback and consensus is crucial for any policies or laws to be effective.
You should test all scenarios to determine which is best for the most employees. Identify those who must be on-call for emergencies, trying to minimize the number of people responsible 24/7. Keep in mind that your policies and procedures should be dynamic, easy to pivot and change based on actual results.
Now is the right time to test with the number of remote workers skyrocketing since 2020. To address the blurred line between personal life and work life, survey first to identify all options while staying nimble for the foreseeable future. You should make changes as you go based on feedback and new, progressive ideas. No “Right to Disconnect” policy should be set in stone as companies recover, grow, and learn from COVID-19. Keep the lines of communication open to continually test and enact policies that protect employees from burnout and overwork.
Any “Right to Disconnect” laws enacted must grapple with our always-on culture. How does a company identify the line between work and home life during a pandemic? It takes a mix of actions, heavily vetted through employee surveys and tested in a real-life scenario to determine what’s best for your company. And once we have more companies committed to a work/home life balance in the U.S., we can benchmark best practices to help other companies create and customize a “Right to Disconnect” policy that works for everyone.