Time for ourselves

The right to switch off

 

Remote working in the Covid-19 era is bringing a new, welcome focus on alleviating stresses in the modern workplace that have little to do with the pandemic. For many of us the tyranny of permanent connectedness to the immediate whims of our employer, work colleagues or clients, has been very much a feature of our age of ever-present email, texts and video-calls.

Some 306 billion emails were likely to have been sent and received each day last year – most of them a burden and a constant interruption in our working lives. Has it made us more efficient, or more productive? That is debatable.

Not least because, far more than ever the telephone did, the new means of instant communication have seamlessly extended the working day as most of us internalise the unspoken etiquette – “thou shalt reply in a timely fashion”, with many Google searches (where else?) specifying a maximum of 24 hours. God be with snail mail and the mail recipient’s lost prerogative to decide with whom to communicate.

So an attempt by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to enshrine the right to disconnect or switch off in a new official code of practice of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) will probably appeal to most. It’s a good idea. How practical the code will prove is another matter. An ingrained culture has to change.

And, although it will not be a sacking matter, and the most egregious managers may see a measure of restraint put on their after-hours pestering, the suspicion is that those most vehement in defending their right to switch off will simply, quietly lose out in the promotion stakes. Companies must ensure that doesn’t happen.

Progressive employers will, however, embrace the idea. AIB has started its own programme for remote working with a policy that states that “downtime is important, and we expect you to disconnect from work email on evenings, weekends, and during annual leave. Try to only check or send emails during normal working hours.” Good on the bank.

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