Are your employees “virtually chained to their desks”?

If your employees fail to "disconnect" from work it could negatively affect their productivity and mental health.

In this age of the internet, the widespread use of smartphones, tablets and high-speed mobile internet means your staff are never truly “out of the office”.
And while Australian employers are not requested to give their employees the right to “disconnect” from work responsibilities, HR professionals need to be mindful of how the perception of being virtually chained to their desks may affect their employees’ mental health.
Hannah Ellis, Principal at The Workplace employment lawyers says there are a number of ways HR practitioners can support their staff while minimizing their employer’s exposure to unwanted worker’s compensation and other legal claims.
“HR should consider their culture around internal expectations and demands and ensure that managers and staff are trained on what constitutes “urgent” as opposed to what can wait,” Ellis told HC Online.
“Management should ensure this culture is supported for example, by not sending company internal memos outside of ordinary hrs and not bothering staff unnecessarily outside of their working hours,” she says.
She says HR professionals may consider might implementing a policy addressing employer expectations of out of working hours’ contact.
“For example, there might be a policy that if something is urgent, the employee is called by their Manager and can recognise the call as such but otherwise, an employee is not required to respond to work emails on their mobile device between certain hours,” Ellis says.
She says one of the hardest issues in this debate is managing client expectations.
If clients have unreasonable expectations, HR could consider inserting company-approved wording to staff emails, specifying their hours of business and suggesting an alternative contact person who can deal with out of hours’ requests.
“HR can also consider training employees to unwind through mindfulness or yoga classes,” she says.
Since the circumstances of each business and employee are different, there’s simply no one-size-fits-all solution to how employers can manage the expectation of employee afterhours availability, Ellis says.
“For example, there is no way around working unfriendly hours for businesses that operate 24/7 or who have overseas clients or offices,” she says.
“But HR always needs to keep its eyes and ears out for people who are working long hours and put in place risk minimisation strategies in order to meet its health and safety obligations.”
She says employees who aren’t given the time and space to “disconnect” and are expected to constantly reply to emails after hours and on weekends can suffer from a mental and physical health perspective.
“Their productivity, creativity and motivation can decline as they are not given the chance to recuperate and re-energise,” Ellis says.
“However, the reality of modern business and today’s technologies, is that things move quickly and sometimes things can’t wait,” she says.
She says employers face the constant battle of prioritising what communication is urgent and where the line should be drawn in terms of expectations surrounding after-hours’ contact.

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