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Workforce Issues: Should UK Workers Have The ‘Right To Disconnect?’

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It seems that this has become the way we live now: multitasking and juggling several daily grinds at once, connected and available (almost) 24/7, carrying (often unpaid) work home. With our smartphones practically sewn onto our wrists, we glimpse into our work mail inboxes when we’re taking the dog for a walk around the neighbourhood or waiting for our food to arrive at the restaurant.

It is hardly a wonder that in the midst of this hectic, competitive thoroughfare that is contemporary life, we become guilty of pushing ourselves too hard. And consequently burning out. Employees are not the only ones worried about their well-being and the effect too much work-related pressure has on their productivity and dedication; employers and governments have recognised this dangerous trend too, and some are even trying to do something about it.

It has now become a workforce issue at the forefront of many employers and employees’ minds.

The French Workforce (Dis)connection

For exactly this reason, France has introduced a new piece of legislation in January of this year, the so-called “right to disconnect” law which permits employees to turn off their work phones and ignore work-related emails outside of working hours.

The legislation affects businesses with more than 50 employees and is intended to encourage staff to take a proper break and escape the ‘always on’ culture of the modern workplace, reports CIPD.

By helping employees nail the coveted “work-life balance”, such practice is deemed to not only help reduce stress among workers, but to boost their productivity, too. So, what are the chances of a similar piece of legislation happening in the UK?

Workaholic Brits

Hannah Wilkins from Eversheds Sutherland LLP is of the opinion that, before simply copy/pasting the French formula, there are particular cultural circumstances to take into consideration: “In the UK, apart from Working Time Regulations and general health and safety obligations, we have no specific laws concerning the “right to disconnect”.

Many UK employees may see the new French law as an attractive option, but it is important to remember that there are important cultural differences between the UK and France.” For once, the maximum number of working hours in a week in the UK cannot exceed 48, compared to 35 in France!

What is more, the UK law recognises the “opt-out” mechanism that allows employees to work for even longer than 48 hours. Sadly, many UK employers take advantage of this legal loophole and use it to make their employees work longer hours.

A Happier And More Rested Workforce?

While it is not likely that a similar legislation will be introduced to the UK anytime soon – it would probably be seen as impractical or unrealistic, particularly for those who work international hours – there have been encouraging signs of shifting towards a happier, more relaxed workforce.

Many companies are now blocking their employees’ access to emails while on holiday, and communication outside of normal working hours is frowned upon more and more often. Baby steps, perhaps, but they will undoubtedly contribute to a shift in awareness among the overly busy bees in offices throughout the UK.

P.S. To keep up to date with UK employment law, read our post about this year’s news in that area.

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