Switching Off: Balancing Work and Life in the Modern Workplace

In the latter stages of my corporate career, I was one of the bold people who always negotiated a 10.00am start so I could do the school run (which I later successfully delegated to my husband, but I digress). This was way before WFH and remote working was a thing. On one of my late starts, my then boss, who had forgotten I was a late starter, rang me and demanded to know why I wasn’t already in the office for a particular deliverable. It took all my willpower not to panic and to remind her that I wasn’t due in until 10.00am.

The Labour party has plans to bring ‘the right to switch off’ into the workplace if they win the election, of course. This is to stop people responding to emails at midnight because their boss sent them at 11.55pm! Apparently, it is already against the rules to contact staff out of hours in 17 countries. This is all great, but you can legislate all you want. Bosses, when they are under pressure, can conveniently forget the rules and employees most of the time succumb to the pressure because they have got a mortgage to pay.

I am not saying we shouldn’t legislate. The workplace without legislation would be unbearable. The point is, legislation is not enough. Managers have to understand they have a duty of care to manage responsibly, and employees need to know that they also have a personal responsibility to enforce their boundaries.

As an employee, gently reminding the boss of your working hours, sometimes on a repeated basis, is not an easy thing to do. It depends on your self-esteem and courage, but if you are to be happy at work, it must be done if they insist on not being disciplined about the working hours.

The concept of the ‘right to switch off’ is an important step in the right direction. However, real change requires a cultural shift within the workplace. It’s not just about following the law; it’s about creating an environment where employees feel respected and valued for their time both in and out of the office. This means fostering open communication and mutual respect between managers and their teams.

One way to start this cultural shift is through education and training. Managers need to be trained on the importance of respecting working hours and understanding the negative impact that constant connectivity can have on employee wellbeing. Workshops and seminars on work-life balance can be incredibly beneficial, helping both managers and employees to set and respect boundaries.

Additionally, technology can play a role in supporting this shift. Tools that schedule emails to be sent during working hours or that mute notifications outside of office hours can help ensure that employees are not disturbed during their personal time. It’s about using technology to support human wellbeing, not to overstep it.

For employees, it’s crucial to assert your boundaries firmly yet respectfully. This might mean having a conversation with your manager about your working hours and explaining why it’s important for you to have that time free from work-related communications. It might also mean turning off work email notifications after a certain time or even putting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode.

It’s also important to support each other as colleagues. If you see a co-worker struggling with out-of-hours demands, offer your support and encourage them to speak up. Sometimes, knowing that you’re not alone in wanting to enforce boundaries can give you the courage to do so.

In conclusion, while legislation like the ‘right to switch off’ is a step forward, true change will come from a cultural shift within the workplace. This requires effort from both managers and employees to respect and enforce boundaries. It’s about creating a work environment that values and respects personal time, ensuring that everyone can achieve a healthy work-life balance. By working together, we can create a more balanced and respectful workplace for all.

P.S

If you want to find out how you can get better at enforcing your boundaries at work and in your life in general grab a slot here to have a chat.