Should New Zealand consider a ‘right to disconnect’ law?

One CEO deleted any emails that were sent to her after her 'working hours' were done

Should New Zealand consider a ‘right to disconnect’ law?

The implications of not allowing your employees to unplug during out-of-office hours far outweigh the implications of affording them the right to unplug, Philly Powell, founder of Wellbeing Tick, told HRD.

Around the world, legislation around an employee’s ‘right to disconnect’ from work outside of work hours has been passed in countries such as France and Canada. However, Powell told HRD that she’s not hearing anything about it from the government here in New Zealand. When you look at the data, burnout is on the rise – with 400,000 Kiwis spending more than 50 hours a week working.

“The work hustle culture has got out of control, so I think initiatives like the right to disconnect and the four-day work week is where we actually need to head,” said Powell. “We’re giving up 40 plus hours of our week so when we turn up there, remotely or in an office, it should be a really positive, healthy, and supportive environment.”

Powell ran her own experiment in unplugging when she took leave from work last year. She turned on a rule in her out of office reply that would delete emails sent to her for the duration of her leave with an accompanying reply to the sender that read: “Thanks for your email, I’ve deleted it, I’m on holiday. If it is urgent, please get back to me after ‘this’ date.”

Read more: Right to disconnect: Employees demand ban on after hours communication

Powell admits there were naysayers to the unique out of office reply and mused that, “it was a bit strange to return to an empty inbox, but absolutely nothing went wrong, and nothing was missed.”

 The interesting thing, she told HRD, was the amount of engagement she received when she discussed the idea on a LinkedIn post. People from everywhere said they were going to try the idea themselves.

Leaders need to role model

The workforce is in a situation where the introduction of laptops, smartphones, and remote access means work is at your fingertips 24/7.

“There is so much pressure on employees to perform and work long hours that it’s almost like leadership teams need to give their employees permission to unplug by building it into their organisations culture,” said Powell. “We definitely need our leaders to be role-modelling. With workloads and work demands and pressure in general, it really is a leader’s role to be keeping an eye on their team. The right to disconnect is going to be applied differently across industries, across organisations, across roles, so I think it’s really important that a company takes a stance on this and that the leaders really buy into the policies and guidelines around it.” 

Some of the more progressive companies in New Zealand are already implementing the ‘right to disconnect’ policy into their employee handbooks.

Read more: Right to disconnect gaining ground in the UK

Telecommunications company, 2degrees, claimed to be the first company in NZ to trial a “digital disconnection” policy for its 1200 staff in 2018. The policy was introduced in response to research commissioned by the company suggested one third of people felt they must respond to an after-hours email or text and Nelson City Council has a policy stopping emails going to people that are on annual leave.

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