In the wake of COVID-19, more people than ever are working from home. And as a huge portion of the workforce has shifted to remote operations, the line between “work life” and “home life” has become blurred—and, as a result, many employees feel the pressure to be connected to work 24/7.
But that constant connectivity isn’t doing good things—not for your employees and not for your organization. The right to disconnect movement aims to create a clear boundary between work time and personal time—and give employees the time and space they need to rest, relax, and fully disconnect from their work responsibilities.
But what, exactly, is the right to disconnect? What are the benefits? And how can you create a company culture that embraces the right to disconnect—and better support your team (and organization!) in the process?
What Is The Right To Disconnect?
The right to disconnect may sound like a foreign concept in the US, where 24/7 connectivity is the norm—and, in fact, it is.
In 2016, the French government passed the El Khomri law, which reformed working conditions for French workers—including granting workers the legal right to disconnect. Essentially, the right to disconnect allows workers the right to fully disconnect from work communications outside of designated work hours. Under the right to disconnect, workers have zero obligation to respond to work-related emails, phone calls, chat messages, or other forms of digital communication when they’re not actually working.
The right to disconnect gives workers the time and space they need outside of work to rest, recover, and engage in their personal lives—without feeling like they have to check their work messages every five minutes.
Since France passed the El Khomri law, other countries (including Italy and Spain) have adopted similar legislation—but other than a bill introduced in New York City in 2018 (which didn’t pass), the right to disconnect has yet to gain real traction in the States.
Why Is The Right To Disconnect Important To Your Employees—And Your Organization?
In the US, workers aren’t legally entitled to the right to disconnect—but, as a manager, you should definitely consider giving your team that right anyway.
And why should you consider giving your employees the right to disconnect? Because if you don’t, your employees are at serious risk for burnout.
Also read: [Expert Opinion] Brigitte Vaudolon: Psychosocial Risks Related to Remote Work
Employee burnout is a huge problem in the US. According to a recent survey from FlexJobs and Mental Health America, 75 percent of workers have experienced burnout at work—with 40 percent experiencing burnout during the pandemic.
Burnout can wreak havoc on your employees; symptoms of burnout can include exhaustion (emotional and physical), increased stress, physical ailments (like headaches or stomach pain), and feelings of frustration, overwhelm, and negativity towards work.
But burnout isn’t just hard on your employees—it’s also hard on your organization. Burnout can cause a major drop in employee performance and productivity—and according to a 2018 Gallup study, employees experiencing burnout are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job.
There are a number of factors driving the current increase in employee burnout—but constant connectivity, particularly in the time of COVID and remote work, is definitely one of the main issues.
As employees are trying to navigate working from home during COVID (and balancing their work life and home life), they’re taking on more work and working longer hours—and according to the Gallup survey, unmanageable workloads and unreasonable time pressure as major drivers of employee burnout.
Luckily, you can take steps to protect your employees (and your business!) from the negative impact of burnout. According to data from employee health and wellness company Springhealth, 30 percent of employees in the US said reducing the number of hours they spent working would help them avoid or reduce burnout. So, granting your team the right to disconnect and to rest and recover during their off-hours can help keep burnout at bay—and help protect them and your organization from burnout-related consequences.
Also read: Tackling the Risks of Hybrid Work
How To Encourage Healthy Disconnection Within Your Company
Clearly, giving your employees the time and space to fully disconnect is a must—both for their own health and success and for the health and success of your company.
But if your current company culture has people firing off emails at 10pm or responding to chat messages on Sunday mornings, that disconnection isn’t going to just happen; as a leader, you have to MAKE it happen.
So how, exactly, do you do that? Here are three strategies you can use to encourage healthy disconnection in your organization—and make sure your employees get the time away from work they need to feel and perform their best:
Create a disconnect policy
If you want to create a culture of healthy disconnection within your organization, you need to create a clear framework for that disconnection.
Draft a “disconnect” policy that clearly outlines the rules around disconnection. For example, at what time can employees disconnect—and stop responding to emails and other work-related messages? If there’s a work-related emergency and an employee has to spend their Saturday responding to emails and dealing with work issues, do they then get to take a day off to disconnect the following week? If a manager is in violation of your disconnect policy—and making their employees respond to emails during off-hours—who should they report the violation to?
Having a disconnect policy gives your employees clear guidance on where, when, and how they have the right to disconnect—and increases the chances that they’ll actually take advantage of that right and fully disconnect from work.
Get rid of unnecessary tasks, meetings, and to-do’s
Your team is going to have a hard time disconnecting from work if they’ve got too much on their plate. So, if you want your employees to disconnect, try to lighten their load—and get rid of any unnecessary task, meetings, or other work-related items on their to-do list.
For example, if your employees are in back-to-back meetings all day, they’re not going to have time to manage their emails and work messages—and will feel like they need to manage those emails and messages after work. So, if you want them to disconnect, eliminate any meetings that aren’t absolutely necessary; that way, they have time at work to manage their inbox—and don’t feel like they need to take that work home with them at the end of the day.
When your employees feel like they can finish their work during the work day, they’re going to be less inclined to carry work into their off-hours—and more inclined to use their off-hours to rest and relax.
Be the example
As a leader, you can say you want your employees to disconnect. But if your employees see that you’re working late every day, responding to emails at 12am, and checking your team’s communication Slack channel on weekends, they’re going to assume you expect the same from them—and they’re not going to feel comfortable disconnecting.
If you truly want to create a culture that encourages disconnection and a healthy work-life balance, as a leader, you need to lead the charge and be the example. If your employees see you disconnecting and taking the time you need to rest, recharge, and enjoy your personal life, they’ll follow suit—and your organization will be better because of it.
Employees may not have the legal right to disconnect in the US. But if you want to empower your team to do their best work—and build a thriving organization in the process—you need to give them that right. And now that you know exactly how to encourage your employees to disconnect, all that’s left to do? Get out there and create a culture that respects and encourages work-life balance—and your employees’ right to disconnect.
Want to know more best practices for improving your employees’ work-life balance? Read our article “Changing Work Modes: What Role Does Quality of Work Life Play?”
Author: Deanna deBara