Is the Right to Disconnect a game-changer for employee wellbeing?

In an age where digital communication has blurred the boundaries between work and life, the pressure to be ‘on’ all the time has led to increased stress and burnout, amongst employees. As a solution, new ‘right to disconnect’ legislation has been put forward to parliament. But how effective will this be in promoting employee wellbeing? 

What is the ‘right to disconnect’? 

Originating in France in 2017, the ‘right to disconnect’ law requires companies with more than 50 employees to negotiate with employees about their rights to switch off from digital devices outside of working hours.  

In March 2023, the Fair Work Amendment (Right to Disconnect) Bill 2023 was introduced to parliament in Australia, which prevents an employer contacting an employee outside of their working hours, and does not require employees to monitor, read or respond to work communications from their employer outside of work hours. 

The Modern Challenge: Always On, Always Connected

It’s no secret that in today’s hyper-connected world, emails, calls, and messages follow employees long after office hours. This constant connectivity has its advantages – swift responses, real-time updates, and perceived dedication. However, recent studies highlight the negative effects of digital connection, with adverse effects on mental health and overall employee wellbeing.  

The obligation that many individuals feel to constantly check their emails or use other digital devices has been linked with a higher level of stress, anxiety, sleep disorders and overall deterioration of wellbeing. This demonstrates the necessity of clear boundaries to protect mental and physical health. 

Answer to Psychosocial Hazards? 

PCBUs now have a responsibility to manage psychosocial risks within the workplace, with ‘high job demands’ which may include ‘challenging work hours’ and ‘unrealistic expectations to be responsive outside work hours’ identified as a common psychosocial hazard. The new ‘right to disconnect’ legislation can be seen as a tool to help manage this hazard within an organisation.  

Right to Disconnect: A Breath of Fresh Air 

We know that recovery is vital to our performance, both at work and in life. The ‘right to disconnect’ could provide employees with more time to prioritise restorative activities, ultimately enhancing employee wellbeing. Research shows the positive impact of reduced working hours on productivity, with positive impacts on workers’ physical and mental health, improved workplace safety and increased labour productivity due to reduced fatigue and stress.  

What Can Employers do?  

Whilst the legislation is yet to pass, employers and HR can begin to develop a plan for implementation within their organisation.  

Clear Communication: Managers should be equipped to have conversations with team members on how to manage high workloads or redistribute work to ease pressures.  

Tech-Free Zones: Create spaces or times when technology is not permitted, encouraging employees to take breaks and engage in non-digital activities like exercise.  

Lead by Example: Leaders and managers should openly discuss the importance of disconnecting and its benefits for health and wellbeing. Encourage team members to respect off-hours and set clear boundaries. 

Training and Resources: Provide resources on digital wellbeing and the importance of recovery (including taking annual leave!). Regular workshops or educational resources can equip employees with the tools and strategies to balance their digital and personal lives and prioritise their wellbeing.  

Better Being offer a range of bespoke wellbeing programs and one-off activations that empower your employees to prioritise recovery and create positive behaviour change. Get in touch with us today!

The ‘right to disconnect’ isn’t just a passing trend; it’s an essential aspect of corporate wellbeing. As the digital era continues to evolve, so too will the challenges faced by employees. Adopting policies that genuinely value and prioritise employee wellbeing is not only the right thing to do; it’s good for business.

Ready to implement a wellbeing program with tangible benefits for everyone involved?