Do we need a law to mandate work-life balance?

Do we need a law to mandate work-life balance? In this episode, I discuss the “Right to Disconnect” bill being debated in New York City. Essentially, it says workers should not be required to answer emails or respond to work-related texts after official business hours. I also share insights from similar laws and business processes from around the world. Is this the future of work for the United States? If so, how will reducing work hours affect the bottom line? Tune in for a very interesting episode!

 

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Hi, I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast.

Finding a work-life balance, no pun intended, is a work in progress. And in a world where your work can follow you anywhere, finding this balance is becoming increasingly more difficult. Compared to the 38 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the US comes in at number 30 for work-life balance. A couple of the reasons it is so low is because 11.4 percent of Americans work 50 or more hours per week, while they spend 11.4 hours for leisure and personal care daily. That’s a quote from Small Business Trends which coincides with some data from RescueTime, which is a software solution that helps you find work life balance by blocking distracting sites and giving you in-depth reports on exactly how you spend your time on digital devices. Here are a few of their statistics:

  • 28% of workers start their day before 8:30 AM (and 5% start before 7 AM)
  • 40% of people use their computers after 10 PM
  • 26% of work is done outside of normal working hours
  • 1% of our day is spent multitasking with communication tools

A lot of companies talk about work-life balance but based on the statistics I cited, maybe there should be a law mandating work-life balance. Actually, there is a bill being proposed in congress right now that may do that very thing. If it becomes law, how will that affect the future of work? I debate it after this special message.

According to Wikipedia, “The right to disconnect is a proposed human right regarding the ability of people to disconnect from work and primarily not to engage in work-related electronic communications such as e-mails or messages during non-work hours.” In March 2018, a “right to disconnect bill” was introduced before the New York City Council and is still under consideration at this point. If it were to pass, it would be “the first workers’ rights law of its kind in the United States — and would force many New York City employers to reevaluate their policies and culture.” Here’s a news clip talking about it. {Play the first 45 seconds}

I link to the bill in the show notes, available on JimStroud.com. But here are some interesting details within the fine print.

  • Employers can’t require employees to “access work-related electronic communications” outside of normal work hours; so when it comes to emails, text messages, or Skype or any type of electronic communications, the boss can send what they want but again, the worker is not required to respond.
  • No retaliation: Employers can’t punish employees for exercising their right to disconnect.
  • Should an employer require an employee to answer an email after hours (or some other electronic communication) they would face a fine of $250.
  • If an employer disciplines an employee—but doesn’t fire the employee—for failing to access off-hours work-related emails or texts, the employee would receive any lost wages and benefits plus $500 and other “equitable relief as appropriate” (in the case of an unlawful termination, that penalty would rise to $2,500).
  • Employers would also be subject to civil penalties payable to the city of New York if they violate the right to disconnect — up to $500 for the first instance and, for subsequent violations that occur within two years of any previous violation, up to $750 for the second and up to $1000 for each additional violation.

I imagine most of the people listening would be in favor of this type of law whereas others, would be curious as to how this affects the bottom line. Well, if hours were reduced, work productivity would likely increase. Case in point, Microsoft Japan generated a lot of buzz recently with one of their experiments. Check out this quote from ThomasNet.

“Japan has long been renowned for its intense work culture that places punishingly high expectations on employees. Extreme levels of work-related stress and exhaustion, which in some cases resulted in suicides, strokes, and heart failure, became so widespread that in the late 1970s a new word, karōshi, was invented – literally translating to “death by overwork.”

This makes it especially interesting that Microsoft recently trialed a four-day workweek in Japan. The summer project, part of Microsoft’s Work-Life Choice Challenge, saw its Japanese offices closing each Friday in August, the implementation of a 30-minute meeting limit, and employees being encouraged to reduce time spent replying to emails.

The experiment aimed to improve work-life balance, boost workplace creativity, and encourage flexible working. Resulting in a 40% productivity boost compared with August 2018, it was considered a huge success; Microsoft has plans to repeat the project in Japan this winter.”

Other countries have been experimenting with “right to disconnect” bills, in one way or another; even making it a law in some instances. I’ll share some examples after this.

City Councilman Rafael Espinal (D), who introduced the “right to disconnect” bill, based it off a similar workers’ rights law in France, which applies to companies with more than 50 employees. To quote from their law, “…the employee is under no obligation either to accept working at home or to bring there his files and working tools”. In 2004 the Supreme Court affirmed this decision and ruled that “the fact that [the employee] was not reachable on his cell phone outside working hours cannot be considered as misconduct.” And FYI, France has had a 35-hour work week since 2000.

Here are a few more examples

In the Philippines, House Bill 4721 was introduced to the Seventeenth Congress of the House of Representatives of the Philippines in January 2017. The long title of the proposed Act is “An act granting employees the right to disconnect from work-related electronic communications after work hours.”

In Italy, Senate Act #2233-B has become law and inside of it is this quote, “The agreement also identifies the worker’s rest periods as well as the technical and organizational measures necessary to ensure that the worker is disconnected from the technological equipment.”

And while Germany does not have any laws related to right to disconnect, German companies have a have a history of implementing policies along these lines.

  • Volkswagen implemented a policy in 2011 stating that it would stop email servers from sending emails to the mobile phones of employees between 6pm and 7am.
  • In 2013 Germany’s employment ministry banned its managers from contacting staff after hours as part of a wider agreement on remote working. It was done in order to protect the mental health of workers.
  • In 2014, automobile company Daimler introduced a software called “Mail on Holiday” that its employees could use to automatically delete incoming emails while they were on vacation.

Okay, in consideration of this trend, I predict that the gig economy will continue to boom. Why not? If companies are going to reduce work hours as a cultural initiative or to be compliant to a law, productivity levels must be maintained. And although I believe productivity would increase as workers embrace more flex time, I must wonder if it will be enough to meet overall company demand. If not, gig workers will be more needed than ever to pick up the slack. Take recruiting for example, how many more HR freelance jobs would post the day after a “right to disconnect” bill becomes law? For that matter, are you familiar with HR Lancers? If not, check it out, as soon as working hours decrease, expect more websites like it.

 

MUSIC IN THIS PODCAST BY:

♫Music By♫ ●DJ Quads – Dreams – https://youtu.be/SrJD8nC_kLM ●Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/aka-dj-quads ●Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/djquads/ ●Twitter – https://twitter.com/DjQuads ●YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/user/QuadsAKA

Chill Day by LAKEY INSPIRED https://soundcloud.com/lakeyinspired Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported — CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b… Music provided by Music for Creators https://youtu.be/0WQBUiO1-SA

chill. by sakura Hz https://soundcloud.com/sakurahertz Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0 Free Download / Stream: http://bit.ly/chill-sakuraHz Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/pF2tXC1pXNo

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