It’s a global renaissance for workers, as the tight labor market has strained the hands of management. They must now do whatever it takes to attract, recruit and retain employees. The companies are offering free tuition and remote, hybrid and flexible working styles. They are now also mindful of workers’ mental health and emotional well-being and concerned with helping people avoid burnout.
During the pandemic, people have been working longer hours than ever before. It was the result of being stuck indoors with little else to do and pressure to produce or risk losing your job, especially in the first year and a half of the outbreak. . Calls, texts, emails, Slack messages, and Zoom requests had to be answered, whether it was evenings or weekends. This placed a heavy burden on the employee. It was a dead-end scenario. If they didn’t react quickly, there could be a price to pay. Responding to the boss at all hours can lead to overwhelming stress and burnout.
In an effort to improve the quality of life for Belgian workers, the European country has announced that thousands of federal civil servants will no longer have to answer calls or emails from their bosses outside working hours. Around 65,000 government workers have been granted “the right to disconnect”, in the hope of achieving a better work-life balance.
With the newly enacted rule, federal officials cannot be contacted outside of established working hours. It is understood, however, that on occasion, “exceptional and unforeseen circumstances require action that cannot wait until the next shift.” The rule also ensures that employees will not be punished or treated differently if they do not respond to correspondence outside normal working hours.
Petra De Sutter, Belgium’s minister for public administration, called stress and burnout “the real disease of today”. De Sutter added that the right to disconnect combats “undue job stress and burnout” among federal public servants. Regarding the right to disconnect, the Belgian federal government is also considering a proposal to initiate a four-day working week of 38 to 40 hours for full-time staff.
Like Belgium, Portugal previously adopted the Portuguese Labor Code which states that “employers have a duty to refrain from contacting workers during their rest period, except in cases of force majeure”. This policy applies to office and remote employees. If a manager violates this policy, they face a fine, as it is considered a “serious offense for employers to violate the privacy of their employees”.
Europe is far ahead of the United States on these issues. In 2016, France introduced the right to disconnect. Subsequently, Italy followed suit in 2017, and Spain a year later. Ireland implemented the right of all employees to disconnect in 2021.