Should You Have The Right To Switch Off?

I noted with interest this week that Keir Starmer was mooting the idea of bringing in a law for employees to have the "right to switch off" after work.

This isn't new. For instance, the French government brought this in recently, and one company received a fine for 60,000 euros because a Director complained about being asked to keep his phone on in case of emergency.

If that feels a little draconian, perhaps you're right.

However, there is a need to address burnout and to curb the behaviour of abusive bosses. But this prospective law doesn't feel very modern.

Imagine it's the noughties

For my kids, the noughties is pre-history. But let's hark back to a pre-pandemic era where we were wrestling with new technology, blackberries, smartphones, email overload, social media's origins. All of this in a nine-to-five, five-days-a-week context.

In this case, I can understand a French-style "right to switch off" being applied.

But it's not the noughties. Most of us don't actually work nine-to-five any more, and the majority of office-based workers are working only two or three days a week in the office anyway, much to the consternation of Siralun Sugar and Elon Musk who would much rather they were chained to their desks in full view of their masters.

Things have changed a little...

Back to the Future

This prospective employment law makes little sense in our current context where, frankly, employees can just walk if they don't like it. And if they don't walk, they 'quiet quit' and you just get the bare minimum.

Hybrid working has allowed for all kinds of new work patterns with limited 'core hours' suggested by many employers.

Some employees report that they find it easier to finish work in the evening after putting kids to bed. Some prefer to work early in the morning in order to finish early, and the fact is that most employers don't mind at all.

You could say we've grown up. That many employers actually trust their employees to get on with the work, to show their faces two or three times a week, and to use their home-working days to get on with things.

I spoke to one marketing agency last week who had restricted their in-office hours to allow for commuting at both ends, because it was the right thing to do. And this was just for two days a week.

The result? More of the top candidates want to work with them.

And, quite likely, those employees wouldn't mind being contacted in the evening, because flexibility has been offered to them.

Quietly getting on with things

The more you look at the corporate sector, the more you realise that it is detaching itself from politicians and from dinosaurs like Sugar and Musk. 

I see wellness funds, online meet-ups, annual away-days, flexible hours and child-friendly policies. Equally, I see employees gravitating away from the Sugars and the Musks, and towards these organisations that align with their values and their lives.

And while yes, there is a need to tackle the excesses of bad bosses and address the very real issue of burnout, the fact is that employees are doing just that by voting with their feet. And this is changing the workplace, quietly and effectively.

Published on May 22, 2023 by Gareth Cartman