Eight thirty in the afternoon. When giving “send” to an email to a colleague, the worker gets a warning: “You are sending an email outside of working hours, we recommend that you forward it tomorrow.” It is just one example of the measures that companies and sectoral agreements are taking at the European level to guarantee the so-called “right to disconnect”, which includes a recent Eurofound study. Among them, there are some that have to do with the organization of work, such as ending the eternal meetings that lengthen the working hours, while others look directly at the right to disconnect, such as rewarding managers and bosses who exercise and respect it.
How teleworking evolves after the worst of the pandemic: it becomes more occasional and feminized
The European agency warns that the extension of days linked to teleworking has been verified, and given the rise of this due to the pandemic and the commitment to more flexible work formulas, the protection of rest and avoiding the “constant connection “of working people.
There are already studies of this expansion of working time, recalls Eurofound. Data from the 2015 European Working Conditions Survey showed that people who regularly work from home are more than twice as likely to exceed 48 hours of work per week as those who go to their employer’s premises. During the pandemic, these practices have been reproduced and aggravated in some cases. Eurofound measured the length of working hours and work during “free time” in this COVID-19 crisis and, again, it affected telecommuters more.
The report of the European body for “the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions” recalls that there is no express legislation at European level on the “right to disconnect”, which in January of this year the European Parliament demanded. Eurofound defines this right as “being able to disconnect from work and refrain from participating in work-related electronic communications, such as emails or other messages, during non-working hours.”
Bosses are fundamental pieces
From the analyzed examples, the European agency warns that both companies and workers’ representatives consider that the agreements on disconnection “have contributed to changing the culture of the company”, fighting the expectation of “constant connection” of the employees.
The report considers that bosses and managers are key to containing work within the working day. Experiences of companies are collected in which bosses are among the first to take training on the right to disconnect and, furthermore, in some companies they try to “set an example” to the rest of the workforce: not sending emails or asking for tasks after hours or on vacation.
Many times, the study recalls, what exists is a “climate” or “feeling” on the part of the staff that they must respond or be available. That a superior indicates that this is not the case expressly deactivates that expectation.
Another option is to examine bosses in digital disconnection and that this becomes a criterion when evaluating their performance. Guaranteeing the right to rest and disconnection can be an attraction for a company, raising its prestige among workers and attracting staff.
Measure email traffic and improve organization
One way to check if a business is complying with the digital disconnect is to measure its email traffic after hours. With this data, one option is for the heads of different departments to check which ones have more activity and have to analyze / justify why. It is a “pressure” tool that can help bosses comply so as not to be singled out by their colleagues and superiors, the study considers.
Anything that is putting black data on white can end bad practices. For example, the working hours registers, as exists in the case of Spain, with which it should be possible to check if there are excess hours and if there are departments that frequently lengthen their hours. There is also the possibility of establishing a dialogue in the company on this issue, either through the signature committees or through periodic surveys, which account for whether or not the right to disconnect is respected.
But sometimes the remedy for the extension of the days can come by tackling deeper causes. Eurofound points to examples where organizational issues are being addressed in parallel. One of them is to end very long meetings, which take time away from your assistants to tackle other obligations and, in the end, condemn them to lengthen their day.
Another avenue is to assess workloads and understaffing. If a person / department exceeds their hours often, ends up sending emails or tasks after hours and does not disconnect, could it be because they have too much work? A study by the University of Barcelona and CCOO points out that almost half of workers face ‘high tension’ in their jobs, the combination of an excessive load of tasks and little autonomy in their work to face this situation.
Is there a need for a European regulation?
The tripartite agency asks whether it is necessary to expressly legislate this right at the European level to make it effective or whether the current regulatory framework that addresses related issues, such as working hours and workers’ rest, is sufficient. The study considers that the data on the impact of teleworking on working hours, on the balance between professional and personal life, as well as on health and well-being, “suggest that it is necessary to improve the application of current legislation.”
It points to the suitability of collective bargaining to agree on measures adapted to the particularities of sectors and companies, but the European agency recalls that in some European countries the weight of collective bargaining is not very strong, so in those cases legislation could be the best option to guarantee minimum rights to workers.
The report shows that, for the moment, only a small group of countries has regulated the right to disconnect in their national legislation, among which is Spain, although several more are raising it and the debate has jumped to the European institutions.
Eurofound highlights that in the states that have regulated this issue, there is a proliferation of sectorial and company agreements to define how the right to disconnect is applied. In other words, the legislation has acted as a lever for the issue to be discussed and addressed. Although in Spain it is considered that these agreements have not taken off as they should.