Posted on 6th April, 2022

Just one in five employers discourage staff from sending out-of-hours emails, poll finds

Just one in five employers have policies in place discouraging staff from sending and replying to emails outside of working hours, while more than two-thirds do not offer guidance on safely taking breaks from technology, a recent poll has found.

The poll of HR managers, conducted by Wellbeing Partners, found that despite growing calls for employees to be given the ‘right to disconnect’, just 20 per cent said their organisation had policies in place to discourage staff from exchanging emails with other employees outside working hours.

The figures also showed that employer initiative was lacking when it came to reducing burnout among workers and promoting a positive work-life balance.

More than three-quarters (76 per cent) of employers do not offer guidance for their workers to regularly take annual leave, with the same percentage also failing to provide guidance on the safe use of technology and taking breaks away from screens.

In addition, less than a third (29 per cent) organised regular one-to-one check-ins for employees with their line managers, which could leave workers’ burden unresolved, despite 90 per cent of the 200 HR managers polled saying they noticed signs of burnout among their workforce, and four in 10 (42 per cent) saying they felt employees were regularly exhausted at work.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, Lou Campbell, programmes director at Wellbeing Partners, emphasised that while employers “recognise the detrimental impacts of burnout on their organisation, they still aren’t providing employees with the necessary tools to overcome the issue”.

Where employees are overworking and checking emails out of hours, “employers should seek to understand whether these habits are workplace-driven or self-driven, [and] set clear expectations to help them,” Campbell advised.

She added that workplace stress also impacted employee turnover and harmed a firm’s ability to attract talent and build a motivated workforce. “Providing employees with the means to rest and take time away from work will not negatively impact their working capacity and output – instead, it will likely improve it,” Campbell said.

According to the poll, employer support for remote and home-working employees was also insufficient, with just 41 per cent of the organisations operating a remote or hybrid model also offering employees guidance on how to maintain a positive work-life balance.

While hybrid working could be great for work-life balance, Ivan Harding, CEO of Applaud, said it needed to be managed carefully in order to avoid burnout. “Remote working can encourage people to work outside of hours, [so] putting policies in place to ensure this doesn’t happen is a necessity to offset the current workplace wellbeing crisis,” he said.

However, at the same time experts warn that a right to disconnect policy might not offer the panacea to work-life balance many are hoping for.

Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser for employment relations at the CIPD, cautioned that legislation on the right to disconnect “could be too prescriptive and may not give people the flexibility they need, for example, it may suit people with caring responsibilities to log on and off at different times.”

Instead, organisations should focus on addressing issues that make employees feel like they cannot switch off, such as excessive workloads and unreasonable management expectations, Suff said.

“It’s also important for them to be proactive in encouraging a healthy work-life balance and allowing employees to set boundaries between work and home,” she added.

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