Wellbeing and the Right to Disconnect

by Niamh Brady, Productivity Coach

Flexible work practices are becoming more common, facilitated by advances in technology and accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. There are many benefits to flexible work, one of which is increased wellbeing. It allows people to better balance work with rest and personal interests, family, and other obligations. However, it can also lead to unplanned overtime, additional stress and burnout.

On the 1st April 2021, the Irish Government introduced a new Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect. What does it mean, and how does it support overall wellbeing?


What is the Right to Disconnect?

The Right to Disconnect gives employees the right to switch off from work outside their normal working hours.  The purpose of the Code is to provide practical guidance and best practice to employers, employees, and representatives. There are three rights outlined:

  • the right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours
  • the right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours
  • the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (for example: by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours)

For example, if your usual working hours are 9.00 am – 5.00 pm, and meetings are a regular part of your working day, the Right to Disconnect means the following:

  • The right to not have to attend a meeting at 6.00 pm
  • The right to not be penalised for not attending the meeting
  • It is your duty not to schedule a meeting for 6.00 pm, knowing that your colleagues usually finish work at 5.00 pm.

The three rights might sound like common sense, but these guidelines were put in place in response to the blurring boundaries between work and home. The Code of Practice helps companies develop policies and procedures to facilitate these rights and gives employees a point of reference if they feel they are regularly asked to work outside their usual working hours.

What Impact will it have on Wellbeing?

People working from home are working an average of 22 hours unplanned overtime each month, with two-thirds feeling pressure to stay connected after normal hours. This contributes to increase stress both inside and outside of work as people try to cram more into the remaining hours of the day.

The Right to Disconnect is an opportunity for both employers and employees to address this issue. If you are working for a company in Ireland, you may see HR policies and procedures updated to reflect the three rights.

However, you will only see a positive impact on your wellbeing if you change your own working habits.

Suppose you continue to reply to emails and messages, schedule meetings and do other work outside of your usual business hours. In that case, you will not see any improvement even if your HR department and manager are doing everything they should be. If you have a habit of regularly working outside of your normal working hours, here are five things you can do to disconnect from work.

5 Steps to Disconnect from Work

  1. Speak with your manager: Explain that you are making a conscious effort to reduce unplanned overtime. Ask them to support you by clearly communicating when there is an exceptional need for you to work outside of the normal working hours.
  2. Update your calendar to reflect your working hours: You can set your working hours in Google Calendar and Office 365 Calendar to let other people know when you are working.
  3. Turn off your notifications: If you have work email on your phone, turn off the notifications, so you aren’t pinged if an email comes through outside working hours.
  4. Track your progress: Keep a simple log of the work you complete during normal hours. This will help you see how much you get done, and maybe where you could do better, within the regular hours.
  5. Don’t give up: It takes time to create new habits. If you find yourself working unplanned overtime, give yourself 10 minutes to finish what you are doing and decide what you can do differently the next day.

If you are self-employed, you can still benefit from the right to disconnect. The main difference is that even more of the responsibility lies with you.  Decide your normal working hours; being self-employed doesn’t mean being available to your customers or your to-do list 24 hours a day. By deciding in advance what hours you will usually work, you are taking the first step to putting work boundaries in place.

The introduction of the Right to Disconnect Code of Practice signals the need for change in work habits as we adjust to the long-term changes to our working environment. Take the steps within your control to look after your wellbeing and experience the benefits of flexible working.