Work-life balance can be challenging, with overworking leading to severe health consequences. Could a ‘right to disconnect’ restore this balance?
Before the pandemic hit, many workers were already struggling in to set boundaries between their jobs and their lives. Covid-19 worsened this. Working from home meant that work and family merged together in the same space, with many feeling the pressure of having to be available 24/7.
Studies before the pandemic had already shown that this kind of work culture can deteriorate both physical and mental health. The think tank Autonomy’s latest report shows how the rise in working overtime from 2020 has also worsened workers’ mental health, particularly that of female employees who are more likely to continue working from home in order to carry out other tasks such as childcare, housework or taking care of older relatives. Having no set boundaries between work and family can lead to severe burnout, says the report.
Indeed, the study found that “women are 43% more likely to have increased their hours beyond a standard working week than men, and for those with children this was even more clearly associated with mental distress”. In April 2020, 86% of women who were balancing standard working weekly hours and childcare responsibility experienced mental distress.
Autonomy is now pushing for a ‘right to disconnect’. According to their report, this right “would provide working people with an added protection against unpaid overtime and its related negative effects, by drawing clear lines between work time and non-work time”.
It says this would help many workers in breaking the overworking cycle without feeling guilty or stressed for taking deserved time off from work.
Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Secretary for the Future of Work, says: “Alongside the right to flexible working, there must be the right to disconnect. It is only fair that workers are able to establish healthy boundaries, switching off and disconnecting from work outside of working hours.”
She says that in the modern workplace companies should not expect workers to compromise their families, responsibilities or hobbies in order to meet the employer’s expectations. “It’s not a sustainable way to run an economy, many good businesses want to see these sorts of protections guaranteed to workers across the board,” says Rayner.
The Director of Research at Autonomy Will Stronge says: “The Covid pandemic has accelerated the need to create much clearer boundaries between work-life and home-life. By enshrining a right to disconnect in British law, workers will be able to take back some control of their lives.”