Increase in home working prompts work-life balance fears

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The Health and Safety Inspectorate is developing guidance to cover issues as working from home – brought about by the onset of the pandemic – becomes increasingly commonplace.

Meanwhile, one of the Island’s largest unions has called for employers to introduce ‘robust’ policies to deal with the new world of work, such as banning emails being sent at certain times to protect staff from excessive out-of-hours communication.

Heidi Gibaut, group managing director at Law At Work, said that a much higher proportion of staff now spent time working at home.

‘All employees have a statutory right to request flexible working, which is all about when they work and where,’ she said.

‘Since the pandemic we have seen more employers offer that choice to their staff. ‘What we say to our clients who come to us for advice is that they should be consulting their staff, reaching agreement and be very clear what is expected on both sides.

‘Home working is now so commonplace the Health and Safety Inspectorate is drawing up new codes of practice. It will cover the need to take breaks, change activities and prevent long periods in front of a computer screen.’

She added: ‘Stress is one of the biggest causes of ill-health among staff, so it is really important that proper boundaries are agreed and are regularly reviewed.’

Last week Portugal banned managers from texting or emailing staff outside of their working hours due to concerns that flexible working and digital technology was creating undue pressure on workers.

Gary Davies, president of the JCSA Prospect union, said that he would like to see protection introduced for employees against such pressure.

Gary Davies. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (32180251)

He said: ‘Both staff working from home and with modern technology, such as mobile phones, make it very easy for communication at any time – day or night.

‘Staff need to be protected both from themselves and their managers by not being contacted outside of work hours to ensure they have suitable undisturbed rest periods.

‘It is too easy for someone to see a work email or text come in outside of working hours, and then automatically start to respond to it, or feel that they will be questioned the following day if they do not respond before they return to work.’

He added that the union felt employers ‘need to address’ the matter by having ‘robust and enforced policies’.

Mr Davies added: ‘The employer can take technological steps, for example, by not allowing their servers to deliver emails between certain hours.

‘While some services require 24/7 cover, this out-of-hours cover needs to be covered by agreed out-of-hours standby or on-call arrangements, thus ensuring that staff know and agree when they are required to be available to be contacted by work out of hours.

‘This approach both ensures that staff have sufficient time to mentally refuel and also highlights to employers that contacting staff outside of working hours is not the norm, incurs an additional cost and is only acceptable if employees agree to be contactable.’

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