Reclaiming Work-Life Balance

3 April 2024

The fight for the right to switch off

Employees are increasingly advocating for a ‘right to disconnect’ and maintain a healthier work-life balance. But how can employers meet this need while still making sure work gets done?

In our constantly-connected world, the battle over work-life balance has intensified. After years of pandemic upheaval blurring the lines between work and home life, employees are fighting to re-establish boundaries around switching off from work. 

This recalibration of expectations on disconnecting is now a hot-button topic for both leaders and their staff.

The value of truly disconnecting

It might seem like employees are calling all the shots, demanding firmer boundaries and more flexibility. 

And employers are left to make accommodations that limit their ability to be productive. But the truth is, there are real benefits for employers who allow their teams to fully switch off from work.

A number of studies have found that well-rested employees have better problem-solving skills, improved memory recall, faster decision-making, and are less prone to costly mistakes. 

Prioritising self-care activities like exercise has also been linked to higher productivity.

Recognising these advantages, some governments have taken steps to formalise workers’ right to disconnect. 

France was an early adopter with its 2017 ‘El Khomri’ law. Germany and others have since followed suit with similar ‘right to disconnect’ policies. Several other nations, including Australia, are currently exploring comparable measures.

Balancing Expectations and Realities

While regulation can provide a formal framework, applying it in the workplace is a different story.

It’s important to set clear policies and boundaries around work hours, responsiveness expectations, and priorities.

Often, we assume that everyone knows the expectations of when and where work should get done. 

But we all come to a role with preconceived ideas about what work should look like – shaped by a long history of accommodating (and not so accommodating bosses) and we forget that others may not share these views.

And while it’s important to be clear – like most things in the workplace, a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to be effective.

What you agree with one person may be different to another person. For example, you might have a right to switch off policy that says that the person can’t be contacted after 5:00 pm. But there are times when you may need a particular person to be available occasionally out of hours.

Saying “I might sometimes need you to respond at six o’clock, but I will let you know ahead of time,” is completely reasonable. Where we get stuck is the misalignment of expectations – again, it all comes down to clear and open communication.

This requires a healthy dose of emotional intelligence from all parties in order to find common ground.

Maintaining Work-life Balance Through Regular Check-ins

Having upfront conversations to establish mutual understanding is vital, but the conversation has to be ongoing. 

Priorities, projects, and personal situations are constantly evolving – so the agreed work-life balance expectations should be regularly revisited.

Stay surveys are a great tool for checking in on work-life balance and seeing how well the organisation is meeting your team’s needs.

Both employers and employees bring their own histories and preconceived notions about how work ‘should’ get done. 

Only by addressing these with empathy and open communication can we create a sustainable approach that enables a healthy work-life balance – with the ability to truly switch off when needed.

If you need a hand navigating the ins and outs of work-life balance or are interested in our business consultancy services, please get in touch with us today.

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