24/7: The ‘always-on’ generation and the ‘right to disconnect’

The French have just given workers the ‘Right to Disconnect’, no longer then are they compelled to work out of hours; we explore whether a similar system could or should be applied to the UK

You’ve just returned from the holidays. Whilst away over Christmas and the New Year did you check your work emails? Did you take the time to progress on a project or sort out that admin? If the answer’s ‘yes’, you’re probably part of the ‘always-on’ generation. One compelled by smartphones to work (usually) unpaid overtime. Think – when do you ever actually disconnect?
France, which already has a mandatory 35-hour week and more holidays than the UK, has given French workers the ‘right to disconnect’. As of Sunday, French firms with 50+ employees have had to guarantee their employees that they won’t be required to work on their mobile devices outside of working hours. Problem solved then! Well, not really…
This new law only requires businesses to define their employees’ rights outside of working hours. There are no ideas how it will be policed, and no sanctions (yet) for businesses that don’t comply. It’s not quite a sledgehammer to crack a nut – more missing the nut altogether.
The way businesses operate is changing – maybe not quite as fast as technology they use, but it’s getting there.
More employees are expecting and wanting to work flexibly in their roles. More are talking to people abroad and working internationally. These trends are only going to grow as technology frees us from the office. How would such legislation work in the future? And could it come to the UK?
Everyone needs to take time to switch off. It’s sensible and good for individuals and the business, but we don’t think legislation is necessarily the solution. Having a conversation with staff about reasonable access – e.g. agreeing to not message each other out of hours except in an emergency – would be a good start. Encouraging staff to leave their work mobiles at home whilst on holiday is another good idea.
For business owners though, realistically they often feel more relaxed with their phone on, knowing they can be reached if there was a problem that needed their attention.
There are tools that can help smaller businesses ‘disconnect’ staff out of hours, without getting overly techy. Send this list of smartphone apps around your team – they’ll help people switch off when out of work. If they’ve got a work phone, turning it off or switching to airplane mode works just as well.

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Ian heads up the HR Dept Edinburgh & the Lothians team. The HR Dept specialises in helping SMEs with everything to with employment, through a local and personal service delivering practical and pragmatic advice and support. With nearly 30 years HR experience, Ian has a wealth of experience in helping businesses to ensure success through their people, be legally compliant and handle tricky people issues. As a business owner himself, Ian understands the challenges that come with running and growing a business. He is known for his ability to explain complex concepts simply and to make learning fun and enjoyable.