The right to disconnect: Striking a balance in the world of flexible work

In the wake of recent amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009, the right to disconnect has emerged as a crucial aspect of modern work-life balance. While the intention behind these changes is to protect employees from excessive after-hours communication, it raises questions about how to maintain the much-celebrated flexibility that’s been incorporated into our workplaces, particularly in the post-pandemic world.

The challenges of flexible work

The shift towards flexible work has highlighted the importance of accommodating individual needs, including accommodating the growing number of men and women who have caring responsibilities, and an increasingly global workforce.

However, the newfound flexibility has not come without challenges, with burnout caused by increasing workload and hours, and blurred boundaries between professional and personal life becoming increasingly common concerns from employees. According to a 2022 report by the Centre for Future Work, 71% of workers surveyed had worked outside their scheduled work hours, often due to overwork or pressure from managers.

How does the right to disconnect work?

The recent amendment explicitly outlines the circumstances under which employers can contact employees outside working hours, such as emergencies or genuine welfare matters. The grey area lies in determining what is reasonable or unreasonable in terms of after-hours contact. Despite assurances from the Greens and Labour that the right to disconnect wouldn’t impede critical work communication, the legislation lacks explicit exemptions, making the reasonableness of such contacts a secondary consideration.

A culture of trust and open communication

In navigating through this ambiguity, fostering a culture of trust and open communication between employers and employees becomes paramount. A common-sense approach is crucial, recognising that what may be deemed reasonable can evolve based on individual circumstances, caring responsibilities, or even evolving preferences.

The ability to engage in open conversations between employees and managers about individual views on ‘reasonableness’ is essential.

5 steps to navigating the right to disconnect for employers

  1. Set expectations clearly: Establish clear expectations regarding after-hours communication at the outset of employment or when changes occur. Encourage employees to express their preferences and concerns openly.
  2. Regular check-ins: Schedule regular check-ins to discuss workload, deadlines, and potential challenges. These discussions provide a platform for employees to voice concerns and for managers to address any issues promptly.
  3. Flexibility agreements: Develop flexible work agreements that can be revisited periodically. This ensures that the terms of flexibility align with the changing needs and circumstances of both the employee and the organisation. Employees might want to take a few hours ‘off’ in the day for personal time, in lieu of taking a work call after hours to accommodate global time zones.
  4. Encourage feedback: Create a culture where feedback is not only welcomed but actively sought. Encourage employees to share their experiences, both positive and negative, and propose constructive suggestions for improvement.
  5. Training on boundaries: Provide training for both employees and managers on setting and respecting boundaries. This can help cultivate a shared understanding of when and how it is appropriate to engage outside of regular working hours.

As we work through the evolving landscape of remote work and the right to disconnect, one thing becomes clear: a proactive and adaptive approach, centred around open dialogue, trust, and flexibility from both employers and employees, will be key to achieving a harmonious and productive work environment.

Ombpoint provides valuable support to employees through practical guidance and coaching. Talk to us today about how we can help your employees enhance their skills and confidence to initiate crucial conversations around the right to disconnect and more.

Holly Wilson  | Ombpoint Adviser

1300 709 389

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