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Health and SafetyJune 24, 2021by Kiljon ShukullariWork-Life Balance & the Employee Right to Disconnect


The Canadian government is currently looking into a policy to provide federal employees with a right to disconnect from work.

What is the right to disconnect?

The right to disconnect gives employees a legal right to not engage in work-related activities and communications after contracted work hours. This means they are not expected to reply to emails, calls, or messages from work after business hours.

Many countries, such as France, Italy, and Spain, offer employees the right to disconnect.

Who would the proposed policy apply to?

If it is passed into law, the right to disconnect would be applicable to federally regulated employees, such as those working in railways, airlines, airports, postal service, etc.

When would the right to disconnect come into force?

At present, the policy is in the consultation stage. Based on the feedback and recommendations it receives, the government will flesh out the proposed legislation.

The proposed bill on the right to disconnect would then have to be passed by the Canadian parliament before it becomes a law.

Why do we need a right-to-disconnect work policy?

Due to the pandemic, majority of Canadians have been working from home and working longer hours.

We no longer participate in a routine of getting ready and commuting to and back from work. There is no real disconnect or psychological boundary between home and work.

Many employees must also juggle personal responsibilities, like childcare, eldercare, etc. while working from home.

The long-term health risks of not having a work-life balance include burnout, low productivity, absenteeism, anxiety, chronic stress, and depression. This may lead to increased employee turnover, lower workplace morale, and prove costly to employers in the long run.

Ensuring that your employees are well rested and not hurting their personal lives and wellbeing due to work demands is ultimately in the interest of your business.

Wait. There’s more…

A global study conducted jointly by WHO and the International Labour Organization found that 745,000 people died from stroke and heart disease due to long working hours in 2016.

Researchers warned that being at work for 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard.

The study covered the years 2000-2016. Though it did not include the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO researchers say the increase in remote working may have further upped the risks.

The takeaways from this study apply to employers, too, especially, family-run small businesses.

How can I help my staff protect their mental wellbeing and achieve a work-life balance?

We recommend the following best practices to ensure your employees do not neglect their mental and physical wellbeing due to work:

Set realistic expectations

Make sure the deadlines set and work allocated to your team is fair and realistic. Setting clear and achievable deadlines prevents unnecessary delays and stress. It also helps your staff prioritize work efficiently.

Don’t expect or ask staff to be available after business hours

Avoid sending emails to your employees after work.

It is okay to expect your team to occasionally put in extra hours to meet a big deadline or a major client delivery. But don’t expect employees to do so all the time.

It may be possible to work long hours or on the weekends for a few weeks but doing so for a long period will lead to employee burnout and increase staff turnover. Also, working long hours does not necessarily mean being more efficient or productive.

Make it clear that vacation time is sacrosanct

Encourage a work culture where employees are expected to completely disengage from work while on vacation.

Do not contact an employee on annual leave unless it is an emergency.

Check in with your staff

If you see that a remote employee is frequently online after work hours or on the weekends, have a chat with them and find out why. It is possible that they are having difficulty separating home and work. Or they could also be struggling with their allotted workload.

If that is the case, you may need to review their workload and get them the support they need.

Offer flexible hours  

Depending on the individual circumstances of your employees and the needs of your business, you may want to offer flexible working hours to employees who may need it.

In case you do decide to offer flexi-work, develop a policy that sets down the criteria for accepting such requests. This will protect you from potential discrimination claims.

Start a conversation about self care

The living conditions and isolation imposed by the pandemic have affected our mental health as well. Your staff may also be worried about finances, job security and/or the safety of their loved ones. Those who live alone may be struggling with loneliness created due to the lockdown.

Talk to your employees about the importance of self care, like getting enough rest, exercise and eating healthy.

If you offer an Employee Assistance Program, remind your staff of the counselling services it provides.

Lead by example

If you want to encourage your employees to keep a work-life balance, start by showing them how it is done.

You set the tone through your actions and behaviour in the workplace. When the boss regularly sacrifices personal time for business, it sends the message to the workers that they are expected to do the same.

Do not check in on staff or join meetings virtually when on vacation. Don’t take work calls or reply to emails after business hours. This will encourage your staff to do the same.

Need support navigating business issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you may need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.