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Right now, Australia is introducing a new law giving employees the “right to disconnect.”

That means they don’t need to monitor email or messages after normal working hours. And they will be protected from unreasonable contact from managers outside of work.

With work-related stress on the rise, other countries including France, Spain and Argentina have similar legislation in place. Elsewhere, Kenya is pushing ahead with its own version of the law.

The So What

A healthy work-life balance is good for both employees and employers, while an always-on culture contributes to stress and burnout.

“Of course workers should be allowed to disconnect. And, to a certain extent, it makes sense for legislation to catch up with the era of smart phones and remote work which blurs traditional boundaries between work and home,” says Deborah Lovich, a fellow at the BCG Henderson Institute who leads on the Future of Work topic at BCG (something she calls Making Work Work).

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“But the need for legislation also suggests there are more fundamental issues to address. Regulation is often introduced when something is broken or has gone wrong. To me, the need for such laws is a symptom of workplace relationships that are broken.”

Employers need to work hard to repair this relationship for the following reasons:

“Companies are often good at introducing schemes to improve efficiency and productivity. But they also need to consider what they are offering their workers beyond just compensation and benefits. Companies need to start thinking about their employees like they think about their customers. That means any signs of strained workplace relationships should be addressed from a standpoint of rethinking how work is done to deliver both effectiveness and joy for employees,” Lovich says.

Now What

These are some things for companies to consider:

Take the opportunity to listen. Use significant moments (such as a news event, or proposed legislation) to step back from the day-to-day and identify underlying employee issues. This could include asking open questions such as:

  • “What would improve your happiness at work?”
  • “How can we help you maintain a better work-life balance?”

Company culture shifts when each team and sub team have thoughtful and honest conversations, with managers and leaders acting on what they learn in those conversations.

Make sure performance is judged on outputs. Studies have shown that long hours don’t necessarily increase productivity and that presenteeism doesn’t foster a healthy workplace culture. Methods for compensation and promotion should be transparent and clearly linked to what has been achieved rather than when people are available, or a willingness to work longer hours.

Lead by example. Leaders and middle managers should show the way when it comes to good self-management, setting clear personal boundaries, communicating whether or not they can be disturbed during a vacation, and being transparent if a family situation needs to take priority, for example. Being thoughtful with small things, such as scheduling emails to land during working hours on the right time zone, can make a big difference to those on the receiving end.

Foster a sense of belonging. Companies need to create a culture that makes people feel like everybody is pulling together for the greater good. “We need to avoid an unhelpful ‘us versus them’ mentality, and instead create workplaces where everybody feels like they belong, and can contribute as valued members of the team,” says Lovich.

“Don’t wait for legislation to make sure the relationship between your organization and its employees is healthy and full of respect, trust, joy, and energy.”