The Right to Disconnect from Work

The majority of Brits support the creation of a ‘right to disconnect’ law that would put limits on workplace communication outside office hours, a poll reveals.

A survey of 1,050 UK adults, conducted by Ipsos, found that six in 10 (60 per cent) would support the introduction of a law giving employees the right to ignore work-related communication outside working hours.

More than half (55 per cent) also said it was unacceptable for employers to expect their employees to check for work-related communications out of hours, while a similar proportion said the same about being expected to send (57 per cent) or respond to (58 per cent) out-of-hours communications.

The survey found that more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said they currently read or respond to work-related communications outside of working hours.

This included two in five (43 per cent) who checked work-related communications and 40 per cent who replied to them out of hours. A third (34 per cent) of respondents said they proactively sent work-related communications out of hours.

Just 30 per cent of respondents said they did not communicate with work outside of their official working hours.

However, Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, warned that a legal right to disconnect would have a limited impact, and alone would not address why people feel they cannot switch off.

He cited issues such as heavy workloads, a lack of support and unreasonable management expectations as causes for the inability to disconnect. “Simply giving [staff] the legal right to choose not to respond to calls, emails or other digital communication outside of working hours won’t resolve these issues or necessarily improve wellbeing,” he said.

“Employers should make it clear that employees don’t have to respond to digital communications outside working hours unless it suits them,” Willmott added, highlighting that managers needed to provide staff with achievable objectives and maximise flexible working opportunities to help staff balance competing work and home pressures.

The report also found that young people in particular seemed to assume communications outside working hours were ‘normal’, with over half (56 per cent) of 16-to-34-year-olds indicating this, compared with a third (34 per cent) of 35-to-75-year-olds.

People earning upwards of £55,000 a year were also more likely to be checking, replying to and sending work-related communications outside of working hours (82 per cent, compared to 65 per cent of workers earning under £55,000).

Paul Kelly, head of employment law at Blacks Solicitors, said that employers should review their procedures for home working and assess their expectations of employees when it came to dealing with workplace issues outside of contracted hours.

“While we may not yet have a right to disconnect in the UK, it is always good practice to make sure that the demands of the employer, even in these strange times, do not jeopardise the health of its workforce,” he explained.

Kelly cited how this law has been in force in France since 2016 and that, in 2018, a UK employer was fined for requiring an employee based in France to keep his telephone on permanently so that he could always be contacted by colleagues and customers, even outside of working hours.

Thanks to Ipsos for this article

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