One in four firms considering ‘right to disconnect’ policies, research finds

But experts warn policies curbing out-of-hours emails might not address the ‘root causes’ of overworked employees

One in four employers are considering introducing “right to disconnect” policies to help staff keep their home and work lives separate, a survey has found.

A poll of 500 UK business leaders by Owl Labs found 27 per cent were considering introducing such measures, which can range from allowing staff to ignoring out-of-hours phone calls to banning the sending of emails after a certain time.

The measure is one of several that many businesses are considering as they prepare to move to a hybrid working model as coronavirus restrictions start to lift, with a third (32 per cent) of firms polled reporting they were developing new HR policies to ensure all employes stayed engaged whether they are based in the office, working remotely or a mixture of the two.

The research comes as calls for a ban on out-of-hours emails continues to grow in the UK and elsewhere.

Campaign groups, including the union Prospect, recently called for a right to disconnect to be included in the upcoming Employment Bill – expected later this year – emulating existing laws in France that ask employers to set specific hours for staff working from home.

Proponents of a right to disconnect also cite Ireland as an example, which recently established a code of practice, stating that employers should send their employees pop-up messages reminding them not to reply to emails out of hours.

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Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said it was understandable that the right to disconnect was being debated now, with more people now working from home and the boundaries between personal and professional lives becoming more blurred.

But, Suff warned: “The problem with such a policy is that it doesn't tackle the root causes of why people feel they can't switch off, such as heavy workloads and unreasonable management expectations.

"The other problem is that it could be too prescriptive for some workers, particularly carers and parents who need flexibility with their hours. A policy like this could actually be a step backwards for making work more flexible and undercut the gains we've made during the pandemic."

As firms wait to see whether any legal changes are forthcoming, Phillip Richardson, head of employment law at Stephensons, said there were still steps employers could take to tackle digital presenteeism. “I would always encourage employers and their management teams to engage with their staff and understand staff preferences on out-of-hours contact,” he said.

While the circumstances are different depending on the business and the sector, Richardson said firms needed to recognise that “there is a balance between working flexibly beyond the traditional nine-to-five model [while] at the same time acknowledging the clear need for a work-life balance”.

The poll found that, when it came to adapting to new ways of working, more than a third (37 per cent) of business leaders said they would explore a ‘work from anywhere’ policy, while more than two in five (42 per cent) were considering implementing a four-day week.

The research also found that more than half (55 per cent) of those polled said hybrid working had led to hiring better talent and increased productivity because of wider talent pools, while just less than half (47 per cent) stated that it boosted employee retention.

Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs, said it was “encouraging to see the majority of UK business leaders embrace hybrid work post pandemic and start adopting more progressive policies such as working from anywhere.

“As organisations have adapted to working remotely, they’ve seen how profitability and productivity remain positive.”