Editorial: Blurred lines

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 January, 2021 at 3:30 pm by Andre Camilleri

“Just got to finish this email” how many times have you said that to a loved one or a friend within the last year?

People who work from home are twice as likely to work more than 48 hours a week and six times more likely to work in their free time, in most cases, this work goes unpaid, according to research from ETUC, the European trade union confederation.

These numbers show how much the lines between our work and our personal time have blurred. It’s no longer enough for companies to throw around the phrase work-life balance. Management needs to foster a culture that respects and protects employees’ time outside of work. Ensuring that work demands on personal time are the exception, not the norm, companies can help reduce employee stress. Giving employees the downtime, they need to recover from work will ultimately improve their productivity and performance. And with that, everyone benefits.

This week’s welcome news: the majority of the European Parliament members has approved Alex Agius Saliba’s report on the Right to Disconnect. The Right to Disconnect is a worker’s right to be able to disconnect from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails or other messages, during non-work hours. The MEP’s report received 472 votes in favour: 70% of the MEPs’ votes.

We all know while being connected to work 24/7 can make you feel like you’re on top of things and getting ahead but the data shows that “switching off” for a while so you can forget about work is more important. In 2018, a study was conducted to examine the impact of doing work outside of working hours. The results showed that it reduces our ability to get the sleep, cognitive recovery and energy we need to accomplish what’s required the next day at work.

If you are one of those who spend personal time doing work, even something as simple as emails and texts, you should know it can do you more harm than good. The reason for this is that you’re not providing yourself with the necessary time to detach and rejuvenate.

Companies would be wise to learn from research like this. Many organisations are struggling with the rising costs of employee benefits. Some are trying to address this by committing to changes that will improve employee health and welfare. And yet, numerous studies suggest our workplaces are worse than ever.

Research proves that work detachment and recovery is crucial, even for those who are driven to excel. Individuals and companies alike should be promoting and supporting the idea of work boundaries. Our time away from work should be genuinely that time spent thinking about and doing non-work-related things. This is how we will bring our best version of ourselves to work, every day.

Legislation is, in many cases, the driver for change. Still, ultimately the onus to put down the mobile is up to each of us and the pressure to live up to responding immediately needs to be alleviated by employers.  

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