7 Challenges in Implementing a Right to Disconnect Policy

Posted By on Sep 26, 2023

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The 8-hour work week required a healthy debate back in the day for the improvement of employee wellness. Today, we are seeing the next phase of employee protection in the concept of disconnecting from work as a right.  The goal is to require companies, especially with 25 employees or more, to protect an employee’s right to disengage from work during off hours. 

But like any transformative policy, there are challenges to navigate as companies look to create and roll out new employee wellness programs. In this article, we’ll walk through seven challenges you should be prepared to work through as you launch your Right to Disconnect efforts.

giving employees the right to disconnect from their devices

What is a Right to Disconnect Policy? 

This is a growing concept that aims to protect employees’ well-being and work-life balance by granting them the right to turn off work-related communication and tasks outside of their designated working hours. 

The words stem from the law enacted in some regions. Ultimately, it’s about employee wellness — compelling companies to look deeper at digital wellness and how the “always available” culture has impacted their workforce. 

Constant connectivity enabled by digital technologies has blurred the boundaries between work and personal life, leading to increased stress, burnout, and mental health deterioration. 

work life balance is a key element of building a Right to Disconnect policy

How does the Right to Disconnect help with building work-life balance?

Today, people work in various ways: remote, distributed, and hybrid. Those employees could be located across time zones and offices, especially for companies with 25 employees or more.  The hours of work may differ widely. Right to Disconnect is about allowing employees to separate their work and home life. With some sort of written policy, you can help employees establish boundaries. This helps to support your employees in various ways:

  1. Setting Clear Boundaries: This policy establishes clear boundaries between work and personal life by defining specific working hours. Employees are no longer expected to be constantly available for work-related matters, allowing them to dedicate their non-working hours to personal and family activities.
  2. Easing Stress: Staying constantly connected to work messages can raise stress levels. Allowing employees to disconnect reduces this stress, giving them the freedom to switch off during their off-hours and easing the pressure to always be available.
  3. Preventing Burnout: Avoiding burnout is essential for maintaining a work-life balance. When employees have the right to disconnect, they can recharge mentally and emotionally during their downtime, which is crucial for preventing burnout and maintaining overall well-being.
  4. Improving Mental Health: Overexposure to work-related demands can have a detrimental impact on mental health. By allowing employees to disconnect, this policy contributes to improved mental health by providing the necessary space for relaxation and self-care.
  5. Enhancing Productivity: When employees are well-rested and have a healthy work-life balance, they tend to be more productive during their working hours. This policy recognizes that quality work is often more important than constant availability.
  6. Fostering Strong Relationships: Building robust personal connections is essential for a well-rounded life. This includes both workplace and personal relationships. By establishing guidelines that encourage employees to enjoy quality time away from work, you’re nurturing strong bonds within the company and in the lives of your employees.

A Quick History of the Right to Disconnect Movement

The history of this movement has witnessed substantial global growth, which mirrors the evolving nature of work in the digital age. France was the first country to pass a policy that recognized that workers should have the right to disconnect from work outside of their regular work hours. This marked a crucial milestone in addressing the blurred line between work and home life, setting a precedent for other nations. 

Today, many countries worldwide have embraced variations of this policy, each tailored to their specific employment standards and needs. These policies aim to strike a balance between the benefits of working remotely and the necessity of ensuring employees have the freedom to disconnect, enhancing their overall well-being in the ever-evolving world of work. In Ontario, Canada, elements of this policy have been incorporated into the Employment Standards Act 2000, emphasizing its global relevance in today’s work environment.

Challenges Employers May in Creating a Written Policy 

As employers look to embrace digital wellness or a right-to-disconnect policy within their company, there are certain challenges to be prepared for: 

  1. Maintaining productivity 
  2. Legal compliance
  3. Defining work-related communications across teams
  4. Shifting the company culture
  5. Adapting to individual expectations
  6. Maintaining workday flexibility
  7. Overcoming Employee Resistance

Challenge 1:  Maintaining Productivity

One concern when introducing any kind of wellness policy is the potential impact on productivity. Employers worry that allowing employees to disconnect from work outside of their designated hours might lead to reduced efficiency. However, the bigger concern should be the potential rate of burnout. The “always available” culture that has developed, especially for remote workers, since the start of the pandemic, has contributed to a decline in mental health for employees. In fact, The World Health Organization estimates that an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression, anxiety disorders, and other conditions, costing the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity

Crafting policies that provide employees with a digital detox can enhance their focus and productivity. Providing them with the time to recharge fosters a healthier balance in their daily lives, particularly for remote workers, by creating clearer boundaries between work and home life.

And the proof is in the ROI: according to Harvard Business Review, every dollar invested in wellness programs is returning in spades — in less turnover, health care issues, and illness-related absenteeism.   

Before drafting your policy, companies should know the laws or legislation in their area. Different regions and countries have varying employment laws and regulations that govern work-related matters. Your policy must adhere to the specifics required, so do some research first to see what is covered by the law, what’s required, and what needs to be included in your policy. For example, in Ontario, employers are required to have written policies that outline expectations in a variety of ways. 

While legislation doesn’t exist in the US today, it has been considered in some states. But regardless, companies don’t need to wait for a law to provide the guidelines. You can still create a new policy that supports work-life balance by encouraging workers to disconnect after hours, creating a remote work policy, and building a culture that supports mental wellness. 

employee overwhelmed from lack of separation from work and ability to shut off

When considering a digital disconnect policy, companies with distributed teams, hybrid teams, or offices across multiple time zones can find it more complex to create a policy that meets all the needs. Defining boundaries for communications is another critical challenge.

Employers must establish clear guidelines regarding when employees should and should not respond to emails or messages. This ensures that the policy maintains its intended purpose of allowing employees to disconnect from work outside of their work hours while also addressing the need for timely responses in specific situations.

Finding the right balance between these two aspects can be complex but is essential for the policy’s success.  Using tools such as Boomerang’s Inbox Pause can help employees take control of when they receive emails. This helps create time for both focused work and better work-life balance.

Challenge 4:  Shifting the Company Culture

Introducing a “Right to Disconnect” policy often requires a shift in the company culture. Companies that have previously encouraged constant connectivity may face resistance when implementing such a policy. Changing the culture to prioritize employee well-being and work-life balance can be met with skepticism.  If the company’s culture has been one that prioritized overwork, it’s likely that late hours and an “always-available” mentality have been rewarded and applauded at your company. Building more defined lines between work and personal time may require active changes to the reward systems at the different team levels and seeking ways to reward employees who use their PTO or don’t follow up on emails over the weekend, for example.

To overcome this challenge, employers must lead by example, communicate the benefits of the policy, and gradually foster a culture that values both productivity and personal time.

remote working looks different for different people

Challenge 5:  Adapting to Individual Expectations and Needs

Before you craft company policies that focus on what happens outside of work hours, you need a deep understanding of your employees’ expectations and needs. How do they perceive and manage their days? What do they consider “work hours” to be?  What hardships might occur if you make changes?   

It’s important to consider a diverse group when looking at assigning work hours. You should consider the impact on working parents, individuals with disabilities, and caregivers.  In addition, some employees may have personal commitments or other responsibilities that require flexibility in their work schedules. For instance, when some companies switched from a remote work environment in recent years to requiring those employees to come back to the office, the hardships around child care and other issues became blockers for success. 

If you’re unsure what those blockers might be, survey your employees to understand their needs and what matters most to them. Creating an outlet for anonymous feedback can give the employees a chance to share but also help companies balance individual needs while ensuring that the policy’s core principles are maintained.  

Challenge 6:  Maintaining Workday Flexibility 

This also feeds into challenge 6, around understanding how to maintain flexibility in the workday while implementing your wellness policy. While the policy aims to protect employees’ personal time, it’s essential not to create rigid schedules that hinder work-life balance in other ways. Striking the right balance by allowing for flexible work arrangements that still respect the policy’s principles is a challenge that requires careful planning and execution.

This becomes more of a challenge when you have multiple sets of needs across the company.  Tools like Boomerang become essential when working with multiple time zones or locations or employees on different schedules. You can utilize tools that help manage the flow and timing of communications across colleagues to match the right working hours, using features such as Inbox Pause and Send Later

Inbox Pause can help you provide your employees the right to disconnect from work

Challenge 7:  Overcoming Employee Resistance  

Let’s face it, humans are inherently resistant to change. That will be just as true as you introduce new policies that put employees in a place of uncertainty. Some employees may be comfortable with their current work habits and may resist the idea of disconnecting from work-related tasks outside of their working hours.

With any new policy or change, make sure you have a strong change management plan in place to help guide employees through. This should include effective communication, providing education on the benefits of the policy, and being receptive to employee concerns.  Also, know that giving them time to adjust and adapt is key. The change curve shows that you’ll often see a dip in productivity as people learn a new path or method before the true ROI begins. Be patient and ensure that you’re supporting employees at every stage. 

The key elements your Right to Disconnect policy needs

What does your policy need to include? How do you know you’re ready for or need one?  Get our free resource that will share the key elements needed and how to ensure that approach creates real change and impacts your employees’ well-being.  

Get Your Free Guide Now: Why Technology Needs to be a Key Piece of Your Right to Disconnect Policy

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