30 May 2023

The dilemma of switching off from work outside of hours

From Checkpoint, 5:27 pm on 30 May 2023

Have you ever turned your mobile to flight mode on days off to avoid work calls?

What about the dilemma of emails dive bombing your inbox after hours?

A new survey of New Zealand workers found almost half felt like they could not do a good job because they were over-loaded. Almost 14 percent felt pressured to work long hours, according to the Umbrella Wellbeing Workload report that surveyed more than 7000 workers.

So how do you switch off without getting sidelined for it?

Employment law advocate and mediator Danny Gelb told Checkpoint some employees could be "addicted to work" and have a fear of missing out if they were not engaging with their workplace all the time. 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began there had been "a blurred line" between what was home time and work time, he said. 

He believed if employers confiscated a work phone or told employees not to answer their emails during holiday time, they were taking the action for the sake of their employees' wellbeing. 

"If you're going away on holiday ... you should be thinking about enjoying yourself and having fun, you shouldn't be thinking about work."

Employers usually took the same attitude if someone was sick - it was far better to focus on recovery rather than worrying about keeping on top of their job. 

Gelb said he was working with one organisation where it was impossible to communicate with any employee who was on leave. 

He urged businesses to have "a good set of policies" or "a robust discussion" with employees on the expectations of answering calls or emails outside of business hours.   

"Quite often without the discussion you'll find the expectations of one is not the deliverables of the other and it can then cause major angst."   

Asked about employees' concerns over being judged on not responding to communications in down time, Gelb used the example of a family business. While family members were expected to be available 24/7, non-family employees would probably not feel the same commitment.  

Both parties were obliged to act in good faith and be fair and reasonable. 

"Normally a good robust discussion about what's expected and what's reasonable and what's not gets around this problem quite adequately." 

His policy was to encourage his employer clients to enforce a policy of having a separation between employees' work and play so it was advisable to provide them with work phones.