'Right to disconnect' gaining ground in the UK

'Working from home has felt more like sleeping in the office'

'Right to disconnect' gaining ground in the UK

Workers in the UK are calling on government leaders to introduce legislation that would prohibit their bosses from forcing staff to work outside of official hours. The “right to disconnect” – which is gaining ground in the age of teleworking – aims to protect workers from being penalised if they opt to ignore calls from their managers after their shift ends.

Prospect, a union advocating for STEM workers, is urging UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to take action. The union wants the government to add the right to disconnect as a provision in the employment bill. The “always on” culture or lack of work/life balance, brought about by working from home in the pandemic, appear to be taking a toll on workers’ mental health, they claim.

Read more: Right to disconnect: Will employers take the next step?

“Working from home has felt more like sleeping in the office,” said Andrew Pakes, the union’s research director, who was quoted in The Guardian. “Including a right to disconnect in the employment bill would be a big step in redrawing the blurred boundary between home and work and would show that the government is serious about tackling the dark side of remote working.”

The government is reportedly aiming to “deliver the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation, including measures that will help people to balance work with their personal lives,” according to a representative of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Two in three telecommuters and 59% of workers overall support the proposal, according to a survey from Opinium. Respondents cited, in particular, the negative impacts of WFH, including a supposed decline in their mental health (35%) and an increase in their unpaid work (30%).

Read more: Employees feel more stressed when forced to 'unplug' from work

Ireland, meanwhile, is the latest country to adopt the right to disconnect into its labour code. “The pandemic has transformed working practices, and many of those changes will be long-lasting,” said Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s employment minister.

“Although much of the impact of the pandemic has been negative, particularly for those who have lost jobs, income or whose businesses have been closed, it also offers an opportunity to make permanent changes for the better, whether that’s working more from home, having more time with the family, or more flexible working hours,” Varadkar said.

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