Should we have a right to switch off?

Technology has brought us some remarkable advantages in the last 50 years or so.

We now routinely carry in our pockets the sort of computer power NASA could only dream of when it was putting men on the moon, have all the tech we need to work flexibly from home when needed and can hold meetings on video almost as effectively as we can face to face.

Gone are the days of waiting for the postman for that all important communication and there is hardly a place on the planet – north Shropshire excepted – where your mobile phone signal or broadband doesn’t allow you to work or stream to your heart’s content.

But with all this tech comes a new problem – the always-on society where you are expected to be available 24 hours a day and checking messages, texts and emails almost all the time.

It means employees often feel as if they can never switch off from work.

Now, moves are under way in some countries to legislate to prevent employers from contacting some staff out of hours.

New rules have come into effect in Portugal, for example, covering phone, email and text communications which mean companies with more than ten employers could face penalties for contacting workers outside of office hours.

The employers will also be forced to help meet the cost of remote working, including a contribution towards electricity and internet bills.

The ruling Socialist party says it is has introduced the measures to restore the work/life balance for remote workers in the wake of the pandemic.

The rules say that companies can be fined for contacting workers outside their normal working hours and are also forbidden from remotely monitoring their staff who are working from home.

Portugal is not the first country to introduce such moves – and is unlikely to be the last.

But whilst the legislation may appear to superficially fix a problem, in some cases it could be counter-productive.

Researchers at the University of Sussex looked at the effect of workplaces imposing a ban on out-of-hours communications and discovered it can also lead to extra stress, particularly among those prone to high levels of anxiety.

And they found that for some staff the fact that the policy caused emails to build up – especially whilst on holiday – led to them feeling overwhelmed.

Dr Emma Russell, a senior lecturer in management at the University of Sussex Business School, told the BBC: "Blanket bans would be unlikely to be welcomed by employees who prioritise work performance goals and who would prefer to attend work outside of hours to get their tasks completed.

"People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload."

It’s a complicated issue and one where a one-size-fits-all solution is likely to be truly effective.

But if you’ve suffered from being compelled to work outside of your contracted hours, we can help. Just click the button to get the best expert advice and a free consultation.

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