Employers can help employees achieve an optimal work-life balance by embedding a right-to-disconnect policy into their overall business practices, says Lidia Pawlikowski, associate vice-president of Hub International Ltd.
Last month, Ontario’s right-to-disconnect legislation took effect, requiring employers with 25 or more workers to have a written policy for employees to disconnect from their job at the end of the workday.
When an employer builds a right-to-disconnect policy into a well-being strategy and company culture, it can ensure the policy is seamlessly implemented from the top down, says Pawlikowski. “We all get into ruts and, . . . from a work perspective, some might work a little bit longer and may need to remind [themselves] that in order to achieve work-life balance and feel rejuvenated and re-energized, [they] need to take those breaks to refocus, be creative and contribute more to [their] organization and other aspects of life.”
Mental-health concerns and burnout are at record levels, says Neena Gupta, an employment and human rights lawyer and partner at Gowling WLG. While the shift to remote working amid the coronavirus pandemic has provided greater flexibility for some white-collar workers, she notes it’s made it more difficult for many employees to disconnect from work.
With the new legislation, the Ontario government is trying to signal a culture shift, she adds, noting it’s just the first step in that direction. The impact of burnout isn’t healthy for employees and will ultimately lead to a greater strain on the health-care system, she says. “We got into some bad habits over COVID-19 and I think the government is just letting employers know they need to take a pause and think about how [they’re] doing remote working . . . because people are burning out.”
Gupta likens the first stage of the legislation to what was done with anti-harassment legislation in the 1980s. “Eventually, protocols against harassment and workplace bullying became incorporated into the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a similar evolution with the right-to-disconnect policy. . . . This legislation isn’t as robust as some people would want, but it’s a necessary and useful first step.
“The reason why employees need to watch health and safety videos . . . is because it’s mandated in the legislation,” she adds. “The legislation doesn’t mandate training around the right to disconnect and I think it should.”
Gupta recommends employers first determine what type of policy works for their employees. They’ll also have to determine legitimate reasons for connecting with employees after hours, such as emergencies, as well as which employees need to be on call and how they’ll be compensated fairly.
“If employees are working unusual hours because that’s the best for them and their families, that’s one issue. If [they’re] working unusual hours because there’s too much work or there’s explicit or implicit pressure to be responsive and on call at all times, that has to be addressed.”
A right-to-disconnect policy isn’t a one-and-done exercise, says Pawlikowski, adding employers should educate all employees on the policy and train company leaders to understand their roles in putting it into practice. She suggests employers document the objectives and key messages of the policy and then weave it into all corporate communications — such as email campaigns, posters, intranet, benefits or wellness newsletters and committees — to build awareness.
“The communications launch needs to come from a senior leader, who will endorse it, practice it and disseminate it throughout the company.”
However, she cautions that the policy shouldn’t rest squarely on the shoulders of an employer’s human resources department. “The responsibility around psychological safety is within every business component of an organization.”