National Work-Life Week is an opportunity to focus on well-being at work and work-life balance.
Work–life balance is a term commonly used to describe the balance that a working individual needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life. Areas of life other than work–life can include personal interests, family and social or leisure activities. – Wikipedia
Many people struggle to get the right work-life balance. There are those with families who feel that they cannot win at home or work and are either failing in both areas or just managing to sustain both. On the other side, there are those who are single and feel the pressure to work harder and longer hours because of the assumption that their commitments are not the same.
Work-life balance is a struggle, and that struggle gets harder as technology develops and invades personal time or holidays. It is increasingly harder to disconnect from work because of cloud-based platforms: iPads, laptops, apps, and mobile phones. Work can be a click or touch away at any time and therefore employees may find it difficult to escape. Those provided with mobile phones, laptops and/or access to an app that allows them to check work emails are either expected to check and reply to their work emails out of hours or they feel an expectation on them to do so. Such a practice carries the risk of stress, burnout, sleep problems and relationship difficulties. This can also lead to unpaid overtime.
Right to disconnect
There is currently no specific right to disconnect under EU law. The European Parliament took steps to introduce a right to disconnect in 2021.
Other countries have gone further though, most notably France. French law also confers the right to disconnect to every employee who uses digital or telecommunication tools for their work. Every organisation in France with more than 50 workers must regulate the use of electronic communication devices; thereby safeguarding employee access to a stable work/home life balance.
Ireland introduced a code of practice in April 2021 that gave workers the right to disconnect. While employees can’t legally disconnect, they can act against employers at the Labour Court or Workplace Relations Commission if they feel they have been penalised for refusing to attend work or work outside normal working hours.
Under the ‘right to disconnect,’ companies must negotiate with employees to agree on their right to switch off. Ways to reduce the intrusion of work into their private lives also need addressing. The Company must reach a deal or publish a charter that would make explicit the demands and rights of employees out of hours.
As an employer, you need to look at the challenges that come with flexibility. These boundaries need to be managed between work and home. Every employee works differently and the positive effect of the ‘right to disconnect’ is the encouragement of employers to have conversations with their employees to discuss their expectations and what works for them.
Employers need to achieve a happy balance between work and life to ensure that employees do not burn out. Employee productivity and Company profit significantly reduce in cases where employees are stressed and overworked.
As a manager, you ought to be concerned about employees who work out of hours as this may demonstrate that they have too large a workload or are underperforming during working hours. You ought to ensure that they are being provided with all the necessary support to complete their tasks within the working day.
One practical way in which you can combat this issue and ensure you are fulfilling your supportive role as an employer is to consider undertaking a Company Questionnaire. Alternatively, meet with employees during the appraisal process to find out what works best for your employees. A happy worker is a productive worker. You could reap the benefits by making a few changes to keep your workforce happy. Alternatively, you risk facing increased sickness absence, work-related stress or losing good employees.