'Right to disconnect' is needed to lower impact of overtime on home workers' mental health – report


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Image credit: Simon Abrams (Unsplash)

New regulations are needed to help combat the rise of overtime among home workers and any subsequent toll it has on their mental health, a new report suggests


First put into practice in the 1970s, the idea of working from home has become more commonplace over the past 5 decades since. Now, almost any job performed using a computer allows some degree of flexibility as to where the work could be carried out.


The approach has not only been shown to have little to no effect on productivity – on the contrary, there is a lot of evidence suggesting productivity improves – but it also brings many benefits for workers, such as shorter commutes, greater autonomy, and more leisure time.


The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a monumental rise in people performing their jobs from home, and these benefits have been highlighted in several reports. However, the shift in workplace has also seemingly given rise to an increase of people working outside of their contracted hours.


A new report from thinktank Autonomy highlights the problems this so-called 'overtime epidemic' is causing for home workers, and suggests the need for new preventative measures to stop work bleeding into people's social lives.


The report cites findings from the Health and Safety Executive which found that 44% of all work-related incidences of stress, depression and anxiety in 2019 were caused by workload alone. Combined with research showing that remote workers are likely to put in significantly more unpaid overtime than their workplace-based counterparts, it's likely that the psychological impact of workload will only get worse for home workers.


To help combat the problem, the report suggests the introduction of new 'right to disconnect' legislation which would mean workers would not have to take calls or read emails outside of work hours, with any breach of these regulations on the part of the employer leading to legal action.

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The suggested amendments are in line with current French legislation that states that companies with 50 or more employees "are obligated to maintain a charter that clearly defines when employees are expected to respond to emails and other forms of electronic communication, drawn up by bosses, stakeholders as well as employee and union representatives."


The charter approach would give flexibility to how the right to disconnect is enforced, says the report, with exceptions for businesses or industries where this approach is not possible.


"A right to disconnect enshrines in law a worker’s right to not be contacted by their employer outside of working hours," the report states. "At a minimum, the right would ensure that employees do not feel obligated to attend to any work-related electronic communications, including email and social media, phone calls and texts, once they have left the office.


"A more comprehensive version would disallow communications to be sent outside of hours in the first place - recognising that even receiving emails or texts can cause stress for the worker."


Parliamentary backing


The proposal for the right to disconnect also has the backing of members of Parliament. The deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner commented on the report: “Alongside the right to flexible working, there must be the right to disconnect. It is only fair that workers are able to establish healthy boundaries, switching off and disconnecting from work outside working hours.


“In the modern workplace, we cannot find ourselves in a place where workers are expected to compromise their families, responsibilities or hobbies in order to meet employer expectations. It’s not a sustainable way to run an economy. Many good businesses want to see these sorts of protections guaranteed to workers across the board."


Steps have been taken by the current government to understand the impact home working is having on people across the country via the Flexible Working Taskforce. Established in 2018, the Taskforce is a partnership of various government departments, trade unions, charities, and business groups with the aim of increasing flexible working.


It should be noted that these efforts do not include the right to disconnect which the government so far has not supported.


Read the full report from Autonomy here.


Written by Marco Ricci

Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health