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Work-Life Balance & the Employee Right to Disconnect

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On November 30, 2021, the Ontario government passed the Working for Workers Act 2021, which, among other changes, introduces a policy on the right to disconnect from work. It received Royal Assent on December 2, 2021.

The Act requires employers with 25 or more employees to have a written policy providing workers the right to disconnect from work. The goal of the legislation is to prioritize workers’ mental health and family time. Employers will be required to create the right to disconnect policy within six months from the date the Act received Royal Assent. The federal government, too, is currently looking into a policy to provide federal employees (such as those working in railways, airlines, airports, postal service, etc.) with a right to disconnect from work.

What is the right to disconnect?

The Working for Workers Act 2021 defines disconnecting from work as “not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work”. Many countries, such as France, Italy, and Spain, offer employees the right to disconnect.

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

As employees gradually return to the workplace, many businesses may continue with remote work or switch to a hybrid work model. Even before the pandemic, long working hours was a serious health concern.

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.

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 interests of your business.

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 your staff is 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. Avoid contacting 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 too. 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.

Do you need help creating HR policies for your business?

Our experts can help you with human resources management 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.