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Employee Engagement, Predictions

Employee Experience & The Right to Disconnect: The Present & Future

Covid-19 and its aftermath resulted in a series of changes, both at work and at home. For many people, the home became the workplace and the workplace was everywhere and nowhere. While many organizations strove to offer flexibility to its employees, as weeks turned into months, and months into a year, and yet some of us have not stepped into an actual workplace, the line between work and life, that we so dearly wanted to separate, started merging.

Working from home came with its own set of challenges, and while workers across the globe struggled to balance this new routine of always being online, some countries took legislative steps to protect the well-being of their workforce.

The right to disconnect, work life balance, and Covid-19.

The right to disconnect law was not a response to the pandemic as such, but it became all the more important in the face of the pandemic. With France, Luxembourg, Spain, and Italy leading the way, and many other countries, like Canada, Belgium, India, Philippines, and Portugal, following suit, the right to disconnect has stirred a series of discussions on work-life balance, employees’ mental health, and guidelines for employers on how to contact workers outside office hours.

Most recently, Portugal introduced a new set of labour laws in response to remote work and its ubiquitousness since the pandemic, wherein companies may face penalties if they contact employees after work hours or during weekends. The laws also outline the need for employers to help employees pay for work-related expenses such as internet or electricity bill. The law also makes exceptions for parents. While Portuguese MPs rejected the proposal for the right to disconnect, the newly introduced labour laws are a great start.

The Eurofound defines the ‘right to disconnect’ as a worker’s right to be able to disconnect from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communication, such as emails and other messages, during non-work hours and holidays.

Many European countries are flagbearers of the right to disconnect as well as other labour laws to give employees a much needed break from work. However, the right to disconnect, in singularity, gives employees the legal right to switch off from work-related communication and devices outside office hours. As rosy as it may sound for employees, it might not be the ideal solution for employers.

The Right to Disconnect: Pros & Cons

Proponents of the right to disconnect often view work related electronic communication, in the form of email, whatsapp messages, or phone calls, as unpaid labor. While flexible working hours has its own benefits, it sometimes runs the risk of abrading the line between work and leisure. The right to disconnect underlines the need for rest, relaxation, and a psychological reset to avoid mental and physical burnout. 

The right to disconnect recognizes the unrealistic expectations that remote working has set for employees, to be online and available all the time, failing which they may face retribution from their employers.

“I think the EU Right To Disconnect law is a positive step towards recognising how technology can blur the life/work divide. It is important that employees have greater autonomy to disconnect, especially in an era where there is an epidemic of mental health issues related to stress, anxiety and depression in part caused by a person being overworked.”
David Reischer
Attorney & CEO of LegalAdvice.com

While 2020 and 2021 were nowhere near normal, upending social life across the world, and putting people under house arrest, which also resulted in an ensuing lack of rest for employees trying to be constantly available. Digital technologies, introduced as a way to collaborate with peers, triggered an overdrive, causing rising levels of depression, anxiety, and interrupted sleep. The only way to deal with unprecedented times is to have unprecedented laws that support the changed realities of the present day workforce.

Flexible working hours sure have been liberating for many of us, the excessive demands of work often take over one’s schedule, disallowing workers any personal time. The initial freedom that work from home offered has slowly waned as many employees reported working more in a remote work setting, some due to lack of other entertainment avenues while others due to increased work pressure and expectations.

While the upside to the right to disconnect is apparent, it is not wrong to think that the law might negatively impact many organizations that require emergency services, like that of a medical professional. Other organizations that work across geographies need to consider multiple time zones for intra-organization collaboration, in which case completely switching off comes loaded with repercussions. For many organizations, a legal right to disconnect in actual implementation terms can be a nightmare. Disturbing a delivery chain can mean loss of customers for many organizations.

David Reischer also points out

“The biggest downside of the right to disconnect is a lower standard of customer service for the consumer. It is essential that employees not use the law as an excuse not to deliver exceptional experience to the organization and more importantly the customer. In the long run, it will be an interesting experiment to see whether all stakeholders benefit from the law or whether customer service experience declines with longer response times and unreturned phone calls, emails and customer support tickets.”

Even though the right to disconnect sounds right out of a utopia in principle, its implementation and regulation are not for the faint hearted. It not only rules out flexible working hours, which many organizations have come to adopt post the pandemic, it also doesn’t take into account freelancers and gig workers.

Dragos Badea, Co-founder & CEO, Yarooms, comments

“The EU’s right to disconnect law is a double edged sword for businesses. On the one hand, it will likely impact the bottom line of businesses that routinely benefit from agile overtime practices. On the other hand, those businesses will likely benefit from reduced turnover and greater employee happiness as they won’t need to be “on call” at all times. In the current environment, where companies are fighting to attract and retain talent, I see this law as a net positive so long as it is implemented keeping some realities in mind. Most likely it will mean that companies will need to designate more employees with alternative working hours to keep business flowing as usual.”

The intention of the law and its makers is noble. It doesn’t just normalize downtime, in fact, it goes a step further to encourage and even respect an employee’s need to disconnect. 

It is important to note here that we are at a junction where technology has infiltrated our life to such an extent that it has set the general tone of expectation as always being available. Since the pandemic took the world by storm, leaving most of us unprepared, we took refuge in technology and digital communication that has eventually brought us where we are at today.   

It is evident that this isn’t a sustainable way of working. What the right to disconnect has done is set the ball rolling in the right direction. Now the onus lies on organizations to adapt work settings to suit the needs of the digital economy. 

“The jury is still out on whether the legal system can properly balance all competing policy interests associated with a right to disconnect. The legal system may be the wrong actor that attempts to regulate the hyper-complex system of modern life that balances work and life. Self-regulation by the employer, employee and the marketplace may be a better alternative solution.” – David Reischer, Attorney & CEO of LegalAdvice.com

Is the Employee the New Customer: A Closer Look at Employee Experience

Employee Experience: Are employees the new customers?

This brings us to the very important matter that has been brought to the fore by the right to disconnect – that of employee experience. Numerous organizations are now reevaluating their employee experience and striving to impart a great one to their workforce, as they would for their customers. In the new digital economy, the employees are like an organization’s customer. They need to be engaged, their time needs to be respected, and they need to feel valued. It might seem like a lot of work for employers, but the digital economy, a highly competitive market, and an increased awareness about mental health, has put employees in the driver’s seat.

David Reischer notes

“The pandemic has forced organizations to look at their employees as a valuable stakeholder that cannot be exploited. It is very difficult to find talented workers in the current marketplace and the cost to hire and train new employees means that it is simply good business to treat employees with greater dignity and respect by allowing them to have greater flexibility in choosing how their work is done.”

Employee Experience in the Future of Work

The right to disconnect has reiterated the value of employee well-being and experience and set the tone for 2022. Here’s what you can expect from the future of work:

    1. Whether or not the right to disconnect gets implemented, employee well-being is expected to become a priority in the form of flexible work hours, mental health leaves, counselling access, healthcare and insurance benefits, and an overhaul of the company culture.
    2. Keeping in mind work flexibility, the hybrid model of work is here to stay.
    3. Employees are more aware than ever about poor working conditions and are more vocal about it. After more than a year of ensuring business continuity, employees are now asking organizations to relook at where they stand as an organization in terms of employee friendliness.
    4. The pandemic has been quite close to an existential crisis, and many of us have lost loved ones during these tumultuous times. This has invariably changed how people view money and success. For many people, the pandemic was a reminder to slow down and value the relationships that surround them. Work-life balance has been reborn.
    5. With employee experience taking the centrestage, it is evident that HR teams will become an essential part of any organization. However, a new wave of HR tech has already taken the employee experience market by storm and it’s here to stay. HR tech holds the future to employee engagement and experience.
    6. With the digital economy knocking at our door, upskilling, reskilling and investing in your employees’ development is what is going to keep organizations ahead of the curve. 
    7. Recruitment will no longer be an admin process, it will be a holistic process that gives applicants a full view of the organization they are about to join. Candidate experience, right from interviewing to onboarding, will need a makeover.
“The number one benefit that the right to disconnect has on employers is that it keeps their employees engaged and their teams healthy. Just as we want our customers to be engaged, we also want our employees to be in their best form. Perhaps the greatest incentive that employers have in adopting the right to disconnect for their employees is the mass resignation phenomenon. Among the many reasons why the best talent leave their jobs for other opportunities, burnout is way up there on the list. This alone should incentivize employers to take steps to keep their employees mentally sound, engaged, and sane, and granting the right to disconnect is a big step to do that.”
Nikki Attkisson
CEO & Journalist, Powdersville Post

This list will keep evolving as the future of work takes shape. It is important for organizations to take a closer look at how they want their culture to unfold in the future of work. 

We are here listening intently to market demands, and our suite of products help companies put their employees first without affecting the bottom line, infact adding to it. We firmly believe that an engaged employee is more productive and our products speak louder than our words.

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