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The Right to Disconnect – how to set boundaries today

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

It followed a survey of 2,000 workers which found that a quarter of them reported that their employer expected them to answer calls or emails outside of work hours.

It made the news on Mental Health Day, but was also flagged in August when Ireland’s Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys announced that an interdepartmental group had been set up to explore the issue and make recommendations before the end of the year.

You don’t have to wait for the end of the year, or for Ireland to follow France and introduce legislation, to put some boundaries in place if this is an issue that affects you.

Here is a list of 8 specific measures you can take to reset your boundaries.

  1. Use ‘night-time’ and ‘do not disturb’ apps and functions on your phone so that your phone blocks messages and notifications at certain times, such as night time or when driving. My phone has a setting that allows messages or calls from certain people to pass through that filter, so that I never miss a call from my immediate family.  WhatsApp has a feature that allows you to mute certain chats, so that you can go into them when you choose, instead of being interrupted when others choose.

  2. Don’t sync work e-mails to your phone. Or un-sync them if you’ve already done that.  A rookie mistake but you can undo it.

  3. Use separate e-mails for work and home. Even if you run your own business.  In fact, especially if you run your own business!

  4. Use automated Out of Office replies as often as possible.

  5. It may be time to get a work phone. If your role is critical then a dedicated work phone provided by your employer is not too much to ask.  Along with this goes the agreement that if you are ‘on call’ you are paid and if you are ‘called upon’ you are paid.  Unless you are a stakeholder or director of the company (i.e. that you will earn from the out of hours activities) you are not benefiting from them.  So actually, it’s literally none of your business what goes on outside your working hours!

  6. The biggest change you might have to make is in your own behaviour. Stop checking work e-mails and messages, ‘just to see’ or ‘to make sure everything is okay’ or ‘to prepare for the next working day’.  There is no such things as a quick check.  You see something, it’s in your head; pushing its way to the front of your mind.  It takes 26 hours for your body to metabolise stress, so why facilitate bursts of additional stress hormones by checking your work messages at a time when you can’t do anything about them (2am anyone?!).  If you have been doing it, you have been training your boss to assume it’s okay to contact you at home.  You need to train yourself, and them, out of that expectation.

  7. Have you spoken to the person who abuses boundaries? A calm measured conversation could put an end to it.  Explain that you are much more productive at work when you have had your protected time off.  Explain that calls or messages sent outside working hours are impacting on your quality of life and ask if you can come up with a system together that’s acceptable to both of you going forward.

  8. Of course, your feet aren’t nailed to the floor. If your boss or manager continues to abuse the boundaries, vote with your feet and move.  It’s an employee’s market at the moment so now is the opportunity to do it.

If you are a boss or manager, have a think about how your messages might be impacting on your teams.  If you aren’t sure, ask them.  Give them a genuine opportunity to express any difficulties.  Listen with empathy and non-judgment.  Put measures in place to improve things.  It’s certainly cheaper and quicker to do this than replace talented people who move to another company where work-life balance and boundaries are respected.

Until next week, take care and disconnect when you need to!


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