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Belgium, Portugal and other European countries prohibit managers from contacting employees outside of working hours

February 4, 2022
Borderless Leadership

It’s a global renaissance for workers, as the tight job market has forced the hands of management. They now need to do whatever it takes to attract, recruit and retain employees. Businesses are offering free college tuition and remote, hybrid and flexible work styles. They are now also attentive to the mental health and emotional well-being of workers and concerned about helping people stave off burnout.

Over the pandemic, people put in more working hours than ever before. It was a result of being stuck indoors without much else to do, and the pressure to produce or risk losing your job, especially in the first year and a half of the outbreak. Calls, texts, emails, Slack messages and Zoom requests were expected to be answered—whether it was in the evening or on the weekends. This placed a big burden on the employee. It was a no-win scenario. If they didn’t respond swiftly, there might be a price to pay. Responding at all hours to the boss could lead to overwhelming stress and burnout.

In an endeavor to enhance the quality of the lives of Belgium workers, the European country announced that thousands of federal civil servants will no longer have to answer calls or emails from their bosses outside of working hours. Around 65,000 government workers earned “the right to disconnect,” in hopes of leading a better work-life balance.

With the newly enacted rule, federal civil servants cannot be contacted outside established working hours. There is an understanding, however, that on occasions, “exceptional and unforeseen circumstances require action that cannot wait until the next working period.” The rule also ensures that employees won’t be punished or treated differently if they don’t answer correspondence outside of standard working hours.

Petra De Sutter, the Belgian minister for public administration, referred to stress and burnout as the “real disease of today.” De Sutter added that the right to disconnect combats “excessive work stress and burnout” among federal civil servants. Related to the right to disconnect, Belgium’s federal government is also considering a proposal to initiate a four-day workweek of 38 to 40 hours for full-time staff.

Europe is far ahead of the United States on these matters. Back in 2016, France ushered in the right to disconnect. Thereafter, Italy followed suit in 2017, and Spain one year later. Ireland implemented the right of all employees to disconnect in 2021.

by Jack Kelly



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