From Desktop To Laptop
In our recent Working from Home Survey, 63% of members said that they were working more than 7 hours a day and were more productive than they were before the pandemic. According to a recent study of 3 million employees in 21,500 companies published by Harvard Business School, worked longer hours, dealt with more emails and attended more meetings when the pandemic first struck, and work moved online. So, the idea that employees would sit at home watching Netflix all day proved to be wrong. However, survey feedback and anecdotal evidence from members tells us that for many working from home the distinction between ‘work’ life and ‘home’ life is becoming increasingly blurred.
We know that the vast majority of members want to continue to work from home for at least 3 days a week. Our survey and internal research carried out by many employers are saying the same thing. But the fact that members want to continue to work from home, does not mean that their ‘home’ life should not be protected. Let’s be honest, employers benefit greatly from home working; their costs are reduced, and staff tend to work longer than they did when commuting into offices. If, as expected, we come out of lockdown on the 21st June and the vaccines continue to protect us all, then we can all get back to some sort of normality. But that normality can’t be the continuing erosion of the boundaries between ‘home’ and ‘work’ for across industry.
Some organisations have been calling for a “right to disconnect”, similar to the one that was introduced in France a few years ago. Under that law, employees have a “right to disconnect from the use of digital tools” to ensure “observance of rest time and leave as well as of personal and family life”. In France there are no direct sanctions for companies not implementing the rules, but employees can sue if they feel their rights have been infringed. The extent to which the law is being adhered to is open to some interpretation.
Many employees have their working hours set out in their contracts of employment, but you would be hard pushed to find many who are prepared to make breach of contract claims because they have been forced to work “unreasonable hours in excess of their contracted hours”. That’s understandable because there is no balance of power in the employer/ employee relationship. It’s down to activist trade unions like Affinity to protect members working hours by using the Courts, if necessary. We did that a few years ago in our landmark working hours/breach of contract claim.
Working hours is going to be a big issue post the pandemic. We will be returning to it again in future newsletters.
Rather than waiting for legislation or a Code of Practice, employers could be doing some of the following now to ensure that the balance between ‘home’ and ‘work’ is properly protected.
- Communicate that staff are not expected to respond to emails outside business hours.
- Support this message by providing appropriate training to line managers, to support the work / life balance. A PWC survey at the end of 2020 found that 65% of employers were planning to spend money training managers to deal with the virtual workforce. Other employers should do the same.
- Produce reminders in the form of pop-up boxes or authorise staff to set up an automatic response informing the sender that the message will be reviewed in the next morning or business day. In Ireland employers are required to add “footers and pop-up messages making it clear that there is no requirement to reply to emails out of hours”. Sounds like a good idea.
- Ensure that in the ‘Catch-Up’ sessions, which will need to be looked at anyway given the new hybrid way of working, work / life balance issues are discussed. Employers should carry out audits to make sure that business working hours are being strictly enforced and the results of those audits should be published.
This is not a very big step for employers to take and it will send the right message to staff and line managers about what’s expected in this new world of work.
Members with any questions on this newsletter should contact the Union’s Advice Team on 01234 7160058 (choose Option 1).