The right to disconnect, and why it's everybody's business

The right to disconnect, and why it's everybody's business

Victoria Police's decision to provide employees with "the right to disconnect" has stirred up debates about demanding workplace cultures where employees are required to be constantly contactable.

There are also growing concerns about the implications of not being able to switch off for our well-being, family life and work performance.

On one side, management researchers emphasise the importance of time away from work and the fundamental right to disconnect.

On the other side, corporate leaders and employers defend the need to satisfy 24/7 productivity and service requirements.

Caught in the middle, some employees complain about work interfering with their private lives, while others defend their right to work in their own time.

Whichever side you are on, the evidence is undisputable: what management researchers call "work-life conflict" has a clear and detrimental impact on our personal lives and can cause chronic stress, anxiety and fatigue.

It also has a detrimental impact on our work performance, increasing the likelihood of burnout.

Anyone who has sat opposite a family member or friend feverishly responding to a late-night work email - or texting a colleague, boss or client after hours - knows that family and personal relationships can also suffer.

How did it get to this? A good start would be to stop scapegoating technology and take responsibility for how we are using technology to intervene in each other's private lives.

Has technology really caused this "always on" culture where a manager, colleague or client feels that they can contact you during your private time?

Research puts the onus firmly back onto leaders and managers, arguing that it is they who should be role modelling sustainable work practices by respecting employees' private time. Colleagues, customers and clients might do the same.

A second step is to acknowledge that another reason why so many people are working during their private time, is that performance expectations and workloads have increased so much that they simply cannot be met during regular work hours.

Indeed, recent research shows that the vast majority of work people are doing at home, on holiday, after hours, isn't attending to unexpected work emergencies.

Rather, they are simply trying to catch up or stay on top of daily demands.

Further, the pandemic hasn't helped. Working from home has blurred the personal/professional lines.

The re-drawing of clear boundaries is now up to all of us.

Professor Julia Richardson, School of Management & Marketing at Curtin University.

This story The right to disconnect, and why it's everybody's business first appeared on The Canberra Times.