Striking the right work/ life balance

The pandemic has demonstrated that remote and flexile employment can work successfully, but having policies around the Right to Disconnect can help people enjoy a better work/ life balance, says Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune
Striking the right work/ life balance

Deirdre Clune, MEP

THE world of work has changed dramatically over the last year. More and more people are now working from home to stay safe and protect themselves and their families from Covid-19.

However, with homes now becoming offices we have to look more carefully at ensuring people have good work/life balances.

The European Parliament has called for an EU law that grants workers the right to digitally disconnect from work without facing negative repercussions.

MEPs are also looking to establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarify working conditions, hours and rest periods. This will take time but that the conversation must start to work out the best solutions for all.

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, working from home has increased by almost 30%. This figure is expected to remain high or even increase. Research by Eurofound shows that people who work regularly from home are more than twice as likely to surpass the maximum of 48 working hours per week, compared to those working on their employer’s premises. Almost 30% of those working from home report working in their free time every day or several times a week, compared to less than 5% of office workers.

In the EU the EU Working Time Directive is there for a reason and it exists to ensure that there are limits to the amount of time people spend at work.

These are very difficult times for employees and businesses but it is important that with more people working from home that work does not overtake everything at home. It is vital, when needed that people work from home in order to keep themselves and others safe but it is important that both businesses and their employees work together at this time to manage the circumstances we are facing. The current pandemic situation has clearly demonstrated that remote and flexible employment can work successfully but having policies around the Right to Disconnect can help people enjoy a better work/life balance. This won’t happen overnight but it is something we can consider when looking at the future of work.

We can all be guilty of checking emails on our phones or logging on quickly late at night but in order to maintain a good work/life balance we must ensure that this does not impact in a significant way. Picture: Stock
We can all be guilty of checking emails on our phones or logging on quickly late at night but in order to maintain a good work/life balance we must ensure that this does not impact in a significant way. Picture: Stock

Some companies in Ireland have already adopted ‘Right to Disconnect’ policies but more need to look at what they can do in this area. I welcome the focus being placed on this by the European Parliament.

Many businesses have been fantastic to their employees during this Covid-19 crisis and the Right to Disconnect has come on the radar of many companies over the last year. We can all be guilty of checking emails on our phones or logging on quickly late at night but in order to maintain a good work/life balance we must ensure that this does not impact in a significant way.

MEPs consider the right to disconnect a fundamental right that allows workers to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks – such as phone calls, emails and other digital communication – outside working hours. This includes holidays and other forms of leave. Member states are encouraged to take all necessary measures to allow workers to exercise this right, including via collective agreements between social partners. They should ensure that workers will not be subjected to discrimination, criticism, dismissal, or other adverse actions by employers.

In Ireland The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD recently published Ireland’s first National Remote Work Strategy to make remote working a permanent option for life after the pandemic.

The Strategy sets out plans to strengthen the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, to provide the infrastructure to work remotely, and sets out clear guidance on how people can be empowered to work remotely from the office.

CIPD Ireland, which represents HR practitioners also recently filed a submission to the Workplace Relations Commission as part of the consultation process in developing a Code of Practice to give employees the Right to Disconnect.

CIPD Ireland has recommended that the Code must define the Right to Disconnect and CIPD recommends it follows European developments as “the right of workers to switch off their digital devices after work without facing negative consequences for not responding to communications from managers, colleagues or clients.’’

The Future of Work is ever changing and we have been forced to change dramatically over the last year to keep our loved ones safe. 

With so many changes to how people are working it is very important that we adapt our policies accordingly and work with employees and employers to ensure that people are not only safe in their workplaces but also happy.

The debate around the Right to Disconnect is something that we must embrace and work towards. Policies like these can ensure that we adapt in the best ways to our new working environments and ways of working.

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