Digital Boundaries and Disconnection at Work – A Guide for Employers

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The pandemic has changed the way we view digital boundaries between our professional and personal lives. While increased access to remote working is positively impacting the lives of many workers, with reductions in commuting time and cost, and the ability to spend more time with family members, for some it has also intensified the need to be responsive and connected beyond standard working hours, during evenings, weekends and holidays.

An ‘always on’ working culture can be a major trigger and accelerator for ill health, both mentally and physically. Therefore, employers need to take a proactive approach - this is a complex issue that won’t resolve itself. Any approach to mitigating the risks posed will require careful thought and consideration, compassionate leadership and engagement with staff.

Building on previous work, the Work Foundation and Prospect collaborated to bring together stakeholders from sectors including energy, manufacturing and professional services. This discussion informed the development of the following set of principles, that aim to help employers, managers and HR leaders to develop their own approaches to digital disconnection that supports workers to fully disengage from work outside of core hours and while on leave:

1) Develop a purpose and values-driven strategy, informed by staff involvement

Your organisation’s values and ambitions should form the starting point for an approach to digital disconnection. The employers we spoke to highlighted the importance of employee consultation when making decisions in their organisations. This is positive; however, it is crucial that discussions about working patterns and locations includes digital disconnection.

2) Focus on building management capabilities within your organisation

Managers will be critical to the successful implementation of any digital disconnection strategy, as a result it is important that they are properly supported, trained in managing conflict and empowered to set expectations within their team.

3) Experiment and engage with staff to find an approach that works

There will likely be a need to experiment with different approaches to disconnection over time. To enable this iterative approach, employees need to feel psychologically safe, meaning that they feel comfortable taking risks and trying out new things, and need to believe that their opinion is valued.

4) Reinforce short-term practical steps with longer-term cultural change

Instead of being a standalone initiative, digital disconnection should be one policy within a much broader package aimed at enhancing employee wellbeing. This could include reviewing workloads and job design, improving holiday and leave policies, offering a range of flexible working options to improve work-life balance, and facilitating the development of mentoring programmes.

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