What is the right to disconnect? The term means exactly what it sounds like—your employee’s right to shut off work after hours without fear of repercussion. As Fast Company points out, legislation is mounting in support of an employee’s right to not be available off the clock in France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, and elsewhere. The European Union (EU) defines the right to disconnect as “a worker’s right to be able to disengage from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails or other messages, during non-work hours.” What do “working hours” look like as the line between home life and work life blurs?
Know this: Overworked employees are overstressed employees, and the business impact of burnout is significant. A 2021 Employee Burnout Report from Indeed found that, “More than half (52%) of respondents are feeling burned out, and more than two-thirds (67%) believe the feeling has worsened over the course of the pandemic.”
A 2020 study from Deloitte estimates that employers lose approximately $56 billion a year in expenses that stem from burnout—including absence, presentee-ism (employees underperforming or functioning at reduced capacity), and turnover costs. And that barely begins to scratch the surface.
Make The Right To Disconnect From Communication A Priority
Employers who prioritize the wellbeing of their employees and their company create an environment where a healthy work-life balance isn’t just encouraged—it’s the norm. Build a culture in which considerate communication is the default. Adjust communication guidelines as needed to protect your employees.
Make Async Communication The Norm
An immediate response from a coworker should be the exception, not the rule, and employees should be encouraged to use asynchronous communication. Provide a maximum response time frame to keep projects moving forward (for example, within 24 hours, Monday through Friday), but let team members know they don’t need to be monitoring Slack, email, etc. 24/7.
Set And Share Working Hours
With employees on flexible schedules and/or across time zones, make sure it’s clear when people are available and when they aren’t. Google Calendar, for example, allows employees to set their working hours. And some teams have loosely scheduled face-time hours to allow for meetings across time zones (such as 9:00am-1:00pm). Encourage your team to set parameters to limit face-to-face meetings that don’t work for everyone. Help employees be respectful of their coworkers’ working hours and avoid scheduling snafus.
Embrace A “Schedule, Don’t Send” Policy
When employees know how they’re expected to communicate, it’s easier to make the decision to unplug once the workday is done. Clear communication expectations alleviate the pressure to check emails during dinner or frantically type up responses to questions that could wait until morning.
Coach teams to schedule Slack messages or emails (in Outlook or Gmail) for the following morning instead of sending them when the recipient is “off the clock.” For communication that’s not time-sensitive, employees should preface requests with language like “this isn’t urgent” or “later this week” so people know there’s no rush to respond.
Encourage Healthy Work-Life Balance
Sure, you may offer unlimited vacation time or flexible hours. But if your employees don’t feel they can take that time off without negative repercussions (like being passed up for a promotion), then they’re likely to burn out.
Model your company’s commitment to boundaries around work-life balance with internal policies that promote flexible work schedules, vacation, and time to relax outside of working hours. Evaluate your organization’s existing policies and ask if they provide clear expectations. And if you’re not doing so already, offer your employees the following:
Hybrid And Remote Work Options
Who can work remotely? And are there different expectations for remote workers vs. office workers? Spoiler alert: In equitable workplaces, there shouldn’t be.
Could hybrid work be an option for some teams or individuals? While the pandemic forced a mass office exodus, it also created a new landscape of options. Evaluate your building capacity and decide who can safely return, and when. Employees need to know exactly what working remotely or on-site entails to decide what they enjoy and find productive.
Outline Tasks, Expectations, And Goals
Flexible work is great, but it needs parameters for success beyond just sitting at a keyboard for a certain number of hours. Provide employees with written guidelines on how much work they’re expected to complete each week, each month, or each quarter. To embrace flexibility and avoid burnout, employees need guide rails and metrics to know when their work is done.
Remind Employees To Use Their Benefits
Make certain employees understand all their benefits, including health and wellness perks such as mental health services or gym membership. And more importantly, make sure leaders and human resources use positive language when discussing these benefits to encourage their use. If employees feel like they can’t or shouldn’t use their benefits, they won’t, which drives them toward overwork.
Respect Vacation Time—And The Right To Disconnect
A generous vacation policy is only beneficial if employees actually leave the office behind when they’re away.
In the When Vacations Aren’t Enough survey by Visier, over a third of respondents surveyed said their employer expects them “to check in with work during vacation.” And 49% said taking time off alleviates feelings of burnout temporarily, but the prep work and catch-up work takes a toll.
Encourage creativity and productivity by ensuring employees get stress-free time away to recharge without interruptions. Consider the following vacation etiquette guidelines for your teams:
List And Delegate Tasks Upfront
Chances are that coworkers and/or managers will need to step in and help while an employee is out of office. Ask employees to create coverage documents that clearly define who will take care of each task in their absence. This resource gives everyone ample time to connect, gather relevant details, and clarify coverage questions before the vacation begins.
Promote Radio Silence
Remind your team to mute email, Slack or other work notifications while they’re on vacation. And create a shared public calendar or a Trello board where everyone can see out-of-office dates across the team.
Track Team Updates In One Place
Nothing is worse than returning from vacation to a mountain of messages and trying to figure out what happened while you were gone. Set employees up for success with an enterprise-level work management system to catch all project info, files, and updates in one place.
With these safeguards in place, you’ll enable your employees to spend vacation the way it should be spent—in blissful, guilt-free relaxation! And you’ll reap the benefits of them returning to the office refreshed, inspired, and ready to hit the ground running.
Create A Company-Wide Knowledge Base
Tracking internal guides, notes, onboarding resources, and training materials is often a time-consuming nightmare. In the IDC white paper The High Cost of Not Finding Information,
60% of executives feel that time constraints and lack of understanding of how to find information prevent employees from finding the information they need. With a knowledge base in place, teams can get more done, and save time and effort with a single, organized repository where all knowledge is housed.
A knowledge base tool such as Trello Enterprise can centralize large catalogs of content for your organization. Playbooks, operations, and how-to guides can be found easily by anyone at any time. Knowledge bases benefit companies—especially enterprises—many ways:
A Knowledge Base Ensures Consistency
Ask three people to explain how to complete a specific task, and chances are they’ll all give different answers. With hundreds or thousands of employees, this variation can become problematic, or even chaotic. Knowledge bases eliminate this issue by standardizing how information is explained and/or learned company-wide, saving your team time, effort, and rework.
Knowledge Bases Help Employees Function Autonomously
Questions should always be encouraged, and a knowledge base makes it possible for employees to proactively find answers on their own. A solid information repository eliminates the need to reach out to a manager for clarification and promotes self-direction in the workplace.
A Working Knowledge Base Is Efficient
Repetitive tasks, such as routine training for new hires, is a time suck. With a knowledge base in place, your HR department (or any team with repetitive tasks) can turn training materials into an accessible library of written or video content to save time. Added bonus: New hires have a simpler, more engaging learning process.
With a great knowledge base in place, you can save time, increase productivity, and help employees to unplug. They’ll rest easy after hours knowing their coworkers have access to all the information they need. And team leaders have peace of mind that your internal systems for knowledge sharing are always-on.
Make The Right To Disconnect Easy
Encourage a healthy work-life balance across your org. Decrease burnout company-wide and make guilt-free unplugging a reality for everyone. Protect your teams’ right to disconnect and set up your company for success.