What seems like a l-o-n-g eight years ago I wrote a blog post entitled “From Germany … a Gift or a Wrench in the Machinery?” It referred to an article that definitely caught my attention … “Germany Examines Ban on Employees Checking Work Emails at Home!” I remember receiving reactions from readers in business who laughed and conveyed thoughts like … ‘can you even imagine?’ or ‘this can’t be serious!’. And serious it was as there were a few countries that passed laws around this.
These laws forbid leaders within organizations to email or call their reports on weekends or i.e., between the hours of 7pm and 7am the following morning during the work week. The results of such moves were seen as positive. Production was up. Turnover was down and overall satisfaction within the organizations making these moves was stronger.
That was then. And now … we soon enter 2023 and settle into new work environments created by needed adaptations to COVID. And whereas some countries introduced their ‘no contact time zones’ several years ago, the time has come for this to be considered and embraced within the U.S. Since 2020 there has been a shift to remote work in total or in part. This is the way that so many businesses have had to operate. It has also served to shine the spotlight on the needs and expectations of workers.
Employees were forced to work remotely from home. Initially this proved to be very disruptive to them, family members and roommates. Added to that was the tremendous sense of isolation that was created. However, with time, employees began realizing the benefits of having no commutes and could use this time to personally benefit themselves or their families. Being in a relaxed atmosphere was enjoyed by many. As such they have come to see that remote work in some form has and will continue to deliver benefits that they want to maintain.
Employers had to devise ways to create a meeting and communication method that would further the connection and drive success. This required significant investment in technology and programs that would allow workers to function from their residences as if they were in the office. In many cases purchasing the likes of desks, chairs and even computers added to the organization’s costs of doing business. Those who run companies were initially very anxious to see a COVID go away to enable the old ‘normal’ to return. Now, today they see and accept (perhaps reluctantly) a ‘new’ normal to which they must adapt to move forward successfully.
Here are the issues that exist today that have given potential life to the reality of having a legal ‘no contact zone’ in the U.S.
- Some company leaders have blurred the line between work hours and personal time. Emails and calls are made at arbitrary times of evenings and weekends. As employees have come to realize the benefit of at least some portion of remote work, they have also come to resent the imposition of ongoing communication from the ‘boss’.
- Mental health has become the focus of many employees which, in part, is blamed on the lack of respect for the juggling and adapting that this ‘normal’ has imposed. Having employers presume they had unlimited access to staff members contributed to the added stress with which they are left to contend.
- Whereas the workforce has experienced a significant reduction in the past year, this has created the need and expectation that all the necessary work will be done by fewer. So be it, however, it is the ‘fewer’ that has had the effect of lengthening the workday and the expectation that employees will meet that need. Not so fast as this has given birth to quiet quitting or doing only what I know my job is and nothing beyond
The Philippines, Italy, Slovakia, Northern Ireland Portugal, France and most recently, Ontario, have also enacted “right to disconnect” laws and regulations to separate the blurred line between work and home. Is creating a law that legally defines the boundaries and circumstances related to being allowed to communicate with employees the solution? And to the extent that this is done, how realistic is it that it would ever effectively work? Personally, I don’t see this route as workable or desirable.
Firstly, the structure of our government makes taking such a legal approach somewhat of a dream. Rather, I believe and see a more realistic approach by just considering the potential of such action. Over many months the challenges on both sides began to arrive at places of comparative calm. Routines were created and established. Any business is aware of the need for discussion and compromise. This applies to dealing with our external customers and, as well, to the employees or the internal customers. Understanding and respecting the needs and desires of both sides of this challenge offers the strong potential of leading to a healthy and workable and solution and a win for all.