With the traditional summer holiday season upon us, we all want an opportunity to switch off from work, kick back and relax. But should employees and workers need to wait until their holidays to switch off; surely, they should be able to switch off when they finish work be that at the end of the day or the end of a shift or working pattern. The Labour Party have recently announced that, if it wins the next election, it will introduce a legal 'right to switch off'. This new right, which has been enjoyed in parts of Europe since 2017 in some form, would restrict employers from contacting staff outside of working hours.
Is this necessary?
The Labour Party clearly thinks so - it’s a part of their new deal for working people - but the answer is a little more nuanced. It inevitably depends on work patterns and work cultures within your organisation. For many employees who worked from home during lockdown (and continue to do so), aided by technology, there has been a worrying blurring of lines between work and home life. However, the blurring of lines can be useful for some employees who find the juggling of various caring roles with their work easier to do with less boundaried work time. For others, where working from home was not possible and their role could only be carried out in situ, the distinction remains more robust. A restriction may not be necessary nor welcome. However, the pandemic is not entirely to blame. Smartphones and other technological advances pre-pandemic were already creating unhelpful cultures in some workplaces where staff felt unable to disconnect from work, fearing unfavourable consequences if they did so.
What could it look like?
We already have the Working Time Regulations 1998 which restricts a working week to 48 hours (subject to an opt-out) and provides for rest breaks etc. However, a new Labour government would look to our European neighbours and adopt some of their practices. In France, since 2017, employers have been legally required to negotiate agreements with unions for a right to disconnect from technology after working hours. More recently in 2021, the Irish government announced a non-binding code of practice ensuring that all employees had the right to switch off from work outside normal working hours and have the right not to be penalised for doing so. Some European countries have focused the right to switch off on public workers only, others it has only applied according to the size of the organisation.
With an election still to be called, this is not an imminent issue. That said, it is part of a bigger strategic question for employers over employee well-being and healthy boundaries. It may be a good opportunity to consider the following;
- Are there areas of your organisation where an 'available all hours' culture has arisen?
- Where this has happened, is it time for some guidelines/boundaries to be laid down e.g. an agreement that emails/communications will not be sent out of office hours unless in an emergency or that there is no expectation that staff will answer their phone outside of their working day.
- Do some staff want the flexibility of less boundaried working patterns? Whilst this flexibility might be beneficial it can have its downsides and it’s good to agree on some sort of working pattern both for the employee concerned and for their colleagues. That may be through informal discussions or through a more formalised flexible working request.
- What about casual staff? Do managers respect the days when casual staff aren’t working or are they frequently contacted with requests to work? Again, some casual staff may want the opportunity to have more hours, but others may consider it an intrusion into their private life when they had specifically noted they could not work on that day.
If you would like to discuss any of this or how it impacts your organisation, please do contact any member of the team.
Labour Party plans ‘right to switch off’ for workers