The blurred lines of the working day

September 10, 2018


A cultural revolution

Mobile technology and our handheld computers have revolutionised our lives – we are connected to our social groups, the rolling news … and unfortunately, to our work on a 24/7 basis. We are facing a cultural revolution and concerns are being raised that this is not necessarily good for us.  Are we a generation that is unable to ‘switch off’? 

A duty of care

Employers have a duty of care to their staff and being connected to work beyond the working day is arguably not conducive to a healthy work-life balance. Without down time employees may be less productive whilst at work and be prone to anxiety and insomnia or other stress induced conditions.

No one would argue that emails from the boss at 11pm at night should be condoned.  Easy fixes can be made to counteract such exchanges, such as:

-Delaying delivery of an email to be received at a defined time e.g. 9:00am the following morning.

-Putting a daily out of office on your email to set expectations that emails will not be read until the next working day.

The French have taken things a step further by introducing a law which has been dubbed the ‘right to disconnect’.  Since January 2017 French businesses with 50 or more staff must draw up a charter of good conduct indicating strict timeframes within which emails should not be sent or responded to. 

In the UK, right thinking companies could adopt similar codes within their IT and Communication policies and aim to warn or even discipline persistent offenders.

Part and parcel of the working day?        

However, people are increasingly opting to switch on their work emails whilst commuting and clear their inbox on their way to work in order to be able to get on with the substantive stuff when at their desk. A new study by the University of the West of England has raised the question of whether this is an extension of the working day or effective use of time and concluded that for many commuters, the time they spend emailing and working on their way to and from the office should be treated as working time.

Not every job can be operated from a mobile but where emails are part and parcel of the role, employees tend to open their inbox as an instinctive part of their arrival at work. Getting ahead of the game when on the train is an employee’s prerogative and could be seen as a conscientious move for a diligent employee.  Similarly, finishing off mail on the return leg of your commute could also been seen as part and parcel of the working day that an employer would expect of their employee. Many contracts include phrases to this end within their contracts so that there is no expectation of remuneration for this ‘reasonable’ overtime. What should be accepted as ‘reasonable’ however has exercised the minds of judges for generations!

Flexible working

Flexibility in this day and age is a key driver for employees and should therefore be high on the agenda for employers.  With office space costs rising, commuter links becoming overrun and expensive, and parents grappling with school run confines – the working day is having to adapt to these challenges.

Most employers will value employees who get the job done regardless of where this is achieved.  It is becoming more common for employers to discuss flexible working packages with employees who find the traditional 9-5 a challenge. Leading the way, we have just heard that accountancy giant PWC intends to offer some of its new recruits the opportunity to decide on their own working hours from the start. 

For these types of employers, work is less about attending an office and more about results – whether this is achieved by emailing on a commute, using the local coffee shop as office space or working from home once the kids are in bed. 

All employees are now legally entitled to make a “flexible working request” at least once a year, and employers are obliged to discuss and accommodate such requests where possible.  For those jobs that cannot be done flexibly, employers must give solid business reasons for refusing a flexible working request made by an employee.  Employment Handbooks should have flexible working policies within them and employers should adhere to their policy and procedure consistently.  There is a defined procedure to follow when making and responding to a flexible working request and ignoring this will leave employers open to criticism or even an Employment Tribunal claim. 

The days of Dolly Parton’s ‘Working 9-5’ may no longer be recognisable with flexitime, part-time, compressed hours, homeworking and flexible working becoming commonplace.  The flipside is that this trend has seen an erosion in ‘downtime’ from work for many.  Mobile technology has its part to play, both positive and negative, in this shift and there would seem to be a kick back against the infiltration of work into the home or non-work environment.   Time will tell whether more stringent measures will be taken to bring a protective balance between ‘work’ and ‘life’.



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