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How to support employee rights to switch off

Ivan Harding, CEO and Co-Founder - Applaud

Physical and emotional exhaustion in the workplace were major effects of the pandemic, with employees often expected to work longer hours in difficult circumstances. As our homes became our offices, and switching off at the end of the working day became increasingly difficult, employee burnout skyrocketed.

The truth is that many of us were simply unprepared for the immediate shift to hybrid work. But now, 18 months on, we should be more equipped than ever to enable a future that puts employee wellbeing first. 

Employee feedback tell us that many organisations are still struggling to implement boundaries that define when work life ends, and home life begins. The situation is so concerning that one in four employers are now considering introducing “right to disconnect” policies to help staff keep their home and work lives separate. 

The new way of working
Working outside of core hours is nothing new, but it is something that was heightened by the pandemic, with UK employees working 25% more hours than they did pre-covid. So having the right to switch off is becoming increasingly important as employees’ mental health and wellbeing are on the line. 

One thing that has been made clear is that employees are not looking to go back to full-time office working in a post-pandemic world, hybrid working is here to stay. The infrastructure that existed pre-pandemic to support employee wellbeing is now outdated.

Pre-pandemic, the differentiation was clear; the office was our place of work and our home our place to switch off from work. And we had the commute to act as a buffer between the two, mentally allowing employees to associate (or disassociate) themselves from work.

However, in today’s remote/hybrid environment, employees are finding difficulty in truly switching off when the end of the working day comes. With work being accessible from multiple devices and employees finding themselves contactable at all times, their wellbeing is suffering. 

HR clearly has a key role to play here. They need to set the boundaries and ensure that managers and senior leadership teams uphold these values. Currently, “the right to disconnect” is a growing issue being urged by Ministers, which puts in place strict measures for employees to ensure they disconnect from work outside of core hours. So what can HR do to ensure employees are given this right?

New rules of engagement
It’s crucial that businesses look to implement initiatives to encourage switching off. They could even go as far as to centrally disconnect technology to help employees do so, removing the temptation to work after the day is over. This will create a culture where employees are empowered to disconnect without concern that this will negatively impact their work or developments.

France has led the way in terms of prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of employees. Under the Right to Disconnect law, employees are not obliged to take calls or read emails related to work once the working day has ended. With governmental support within the UK for the same style of working construct, we can expect to see similar changes implemented in the near future.

Enhancing the digital employee experience
Alongside providing clearer guidance and implementing policies, there is a key opportunity for HR to improve the hybrid-working experience. We are currently moving on from full-time remote working, and employees are increasingly expecting a business perk to be “the right to switch off”, with employee wellbeing at the forefront of mind. As such, HR needs to put measuring the digital employee experience at the top of their priority list. 

With the Great Resignation a current business challenge, organisations are striving to remain competitive in attracting and retaining talent. It’s imperative for HR departments to leverage technology to both measure and improve the employee experience (EX). This can be through automatically scheduled regular check-ins and pulse surveys every month. 

Managers also need to be provided with the right technology to ensure they have all the relevant data to inform them on which employees have been online for too long or consistently have meetings outside of core hours. They will then be made aware of signs of overwork and assist in preventing feelings of isolation and loneliness, and be directed to take a bolder approach to switch off IT outside of the traditional working day.

The successful shift to full-time remote working has been the silver lining of the pandemic for many.  And it must be a priority for employers to ensure that employees are able to switch off in the evening and have a clear differentiation between work and home life. Setting out clear, new rules of engagement and having the right HR technology, employees will be empowered to have “the right to switch off”.

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