As COVID-19 forces millions to work from home, the right to disconnect has never been more important


As COVID-19 forces millions to work from home, the right to disconnect has never been more important

With the Covid-19 pandemic turning millions of kitchen tables and living rooms into makeshift home offices across the world, the right to disconnect has never been more important. That is why UNI Global Union, representing 20 million skills and services workers in 150 countries, is highlighting best practices to establish all-important boundaries between work and personal time.

“When we are already under pressure because of pandemic-related anxiety and social isolation, workers should not have to face the burnout and depression associated with an ‘always on’ culture,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “The flexibility to work from home is important, and we are calling on employers to recognize the equal importance of a sustainable work culture in these difficult times—including the right to disconnect.”

UNI Professional and Managers launched a campaign around the right to disconnect last year and released a best practices guide for introducing a right to disconnect in the workplace. The group has now launched new recommendations for disconnecting  in the time of the coronavirus, including:

  • Highlighting the importance of disconnection. The right to disconnect is important under normal circumstances to ensure work-life balance and to prevent anxiety, depression, and burnout, but becomes even more important when facing extended periods of working from home. A right to disconnect can also help alleviate the overall level of stress and anxiety that employees feel due to the impact of the coronavirus.
  • Defining the working hours. It may not always be feasible to adhere to a standard 9-to-5 schedule when working from home in these times, but clear communication and agreement on what constitute normal working hours are important during this crisis.
  • Different groups are differently affected. Employees whose children, parents, or other dependent family members rely on them for care are particularly affected by the Covid-19 crisis and may not be able to devote as much attention to their work as someone without similar responsibilities. Consequently, employers should not penalize employees who are less connected or reward those who are more “on call” in this period.
  • Communication and training. While many professionals and managers are used to remote working, not everyone is. It is important that the employer communicates to all staff what their right to disconnect policy is and offers trainings on how to practically execute it.

In a recent survey by UNI of member unions from more than 70 different countries, more than half said they have negotiated the right to disconnect for their members forced to work from home during the crisis. UNI has also secured the right to disconnect in global agreements with telecommunications giants Telefonica and Orange.

“Enforcing the right to disconnect is another way that unions are stepping up for their members during the outbreak,” said Alex Högback, Director of UNI Professionals and Managers. “The duty to respect others’ right to disconnect is often overlooked in regular times, but it is even more important now, in this period of extreme disruption and stress.”