Studies have shown an alarming trend amongst remote and hybrid workers, with one third of these employees working more hours than usual, due to the ‘always on’ culture that has emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the potential benefits for staff and businesses are well appreciated, as proven by the widespread adoption of flexibility, it’s important that sufficient attention is also placed upon the reality of its side effects.

Embracing technology and cutting the commute can be transformational for productivity, but can this go too far and become detrimental? There are many ways that employers can manage this balance, starting by developing an understanding of the current situation.

Blurred boundaries and employee wellbeing

As we have already alluded to, advances in technology and the ability to make contact in numerous ways have made it very difficult to escape work.

Unlike in a traditional environment, working hours are unlikely to be managed very tightly when based at home, resulting in a blurring of boundaries and an underlying temptation to continue tasks into the evening or weekend.

This may be necessary once in a while, but repetition of these habits will only cause damage to the wellbeing of employees.

Unsurprisingly, abuse of the ‘always on’ culture is a major contributor towards burnout, leading many to argue in favour of a right to disconnect.

What is the right to disconnect?

Although there is currently no official definition of the right to disconnect, the CIPD describes it simply as a means to allow employees to disconnect from work, outside of normal working hours.

The term originates from existing legislation in France, which was first introduced back in 2017.

Under this law, employers are prohibited from encroaching on the personal and family lives of their staff, ultimately meaning that they cannot be punished for ignoring after-hours messages.

In practice, this provides a major layer of protection for employees. It means they are less likely to encounter burnout, while also giving them a solid defence against a potential disciplinary or dismissal, should their employer feel that they’re underperforming by sticking to traditional working hours.

While many European countries have introduced similar legislation on the back of this, the UK government is yet to indicate any intention to follow suit. However, this doesn’t mean a legislative change is off the table, with various thinktanks and campaigners pressuring parliament to take action.

There are also many options for employers to consider, helping to encourage a better balance amongst remote and hybrid workers, reminding them of the importance of personal wellbeing.

What can employers do to help?

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), over 800,000 people suffered from work-related stress or anxiety in 2020/21, with the ‘always on’ culture having a major influence on this figure.

Remote working’s success has been driven by the desire for autonomy amongst employees, relating to where and how they work. However, as with most things in life, it is important to strike a balance.

An employer that fails to implement structure on working days is only likely to exacerbate the problems of burnout and stress in the long run.

Structure doesn’t have to mean micro-management and control. Instead, it can be derived from the values and culture of an organisation, with employees feeling comfortable in their right to switch off outside of work hours.

There is also nothing to prevent employers from implementing a right to disconnect, although the means of doing this will vary depending on each organisation.

For example, some may choose to offer it as a company benefit or wellbeing policy, while others may look to include it within existing policies for remote and hybrid working.

If you would like to receive tailored guidance on supporting remote workers, or encouraging a healthier work-life balance, call us today on 0345 076 288 or complete the form below.

AHR Consultants also offer a range of wellbeing services, including access to a market-leading Employee Assistance Programme, and training for Mental Health First Aid.