Mental health professionals ask employers to implement a right to disconnect

Almost half (45%) of employees have reported they feel they have to reply to work messages outside of working hours.

And nearly two-thirds (64%) of those working at SMEs said they feel guilty about taking holiday in a poll commissioned by Spill, a mental health support service.

Calvin Benton, founder of Spill, told HR magazine: “The flexible hours that come with remote and hybrid work are great for our personal lives in many ways – a workout at lunchtime and actual, non-Pret food, anyone? – but the data show that flexible hours inevitably mean more hours.”

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Research by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US has found that the average working day has grown longer by 48 minutes due to remote work.

One consequence of this, Benton warned, was the tendency for employees to appear active and online even outside of working hours.

He said: “Digital presenteeism is a symptom of remote working. It’s also a big contributing factor to burnout and anxiety as it increases cognitive and emotional overload. Essentially, the effect on our brains is very similar to actual work."

The right to disconnect has been a hot topic of debate in UK workplaces after other countries, such as France, introduced legislation to prevent employees overworking.

However, the UK currently has no legal framework for companies wishing to implement such a policy.

Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, told HR magazine: “The Republic of Ireland is ahead of us here,” he said, referring to recent legislation in the Oireachtas.

“They’ve brought in a loose framework, and that’s all employers need to do. From an HR point of view, it has to be suggesting rather than imposing, to get the best results." 

It is vital, he added, that employers trust workers to manage their time, but managers need to take an active role in preventing burnout

“Management, 18 months ago, was basically about standing over people. We shouldn’t be dominating people by physical presence, we should be encouraging people to do the right things, for the right reasons," he said.

“There’s always a need for old-style line management for some employees, don’t get me wrong. If you’re doing the job properly, however, using the tools and systems you have available, you can do that just as effectively when working remotely.

“An employee that is trusted will go that extra mile for their employer, over one that is being forced to do those things."