Right to disconnect

Trying to get ahead of the curve with policies and initiatives that aren't yet the norm is a great way to stand out in terms of your employer brand. Here's one we think will catch on.

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Spill's 'Right to Disconnect' Policy

After seeing how remote and hybrid work can so easily seep into evenings and weekends — both in terms of actual work and 'mental real estate' — we've just launched an internal 'Right to Disconnect' Policy. Here it is in full.

Why this policy exists

The flexible hours that come with remote and hybrid work are great — letting the plumber in! Cooking an actual non-Pret meal for lunch! The occasional lie-in! — but the data show that they invariably mean more hours. A recent study found that the average working day had increased by 48 minutes since the start of the pandemic. That's a lot.

And it's not just actual working hours that are the problem: the amount of time people aren't working, but feel like they need to be contactable and responsive, also appears to be increasing. One of the pieces of evidence used by the French government when passing its 'right to disconnect' legislation in 2017 was a study (in French) showing that communicating (or being contactable) out of regular working hours increases cognitive and emotional overload, which can lead to burnout and anxiety. Essentially, the effect on our brains is very similar to actual work.

If you're thinking about work, you're working.If you're messaging about work, you're working.If at any moment you could be pulled into work, you're working.

Essentially, our communication boundaries haven't had time to catch up now that we work predominantly with our brains. Think back to when we worked mostly with our hands: would a farmer's boss go round to his house at 9pm in the evening, throw down some unfinished corn husks on the kitchen table, and ask him to shuck them all right then and there? No, because that would be insane. Yet when a colleague sends us a Slack message or an email at 9pm with a request to update a few slides or pull a few numbers, we often do it — and often without thinking twice. Mental real estate is easier to trespass than physical real estate.

Having a job is like going to the gym: when it comes to achieving your goals, recovery time is as important as the actual work itself. A Stanford study showed that the average person isn't productive above 50-55 hours a week anyway, as mental fatigue sets in. In order to bring our A-game to work tomorrow, we need enough time to properly wind down and recharge tonight. That's why the EU Working Time Directive requires people to have at least 11 hours of non-work time in every 24-hour period.

Our motto: work really hard, and then really switch off.

What your 'right to disconnect' means in tangible terms

The right to disconnect is an individual right, not a company mandate. However, what the company does mandate is that no one should take away another person's right to disconnect.

At Spill, everyone has the right to work whenever (and however much) they want. But everyone also has the right to not be disturbed or asked to work outside of reasonable hours, unless it's an emergency (we'll define an emergency later on).

Working late in the evening because you want to is very different from working because you feel like you have to. This distinction is key, and the latter is what this policy aims to prevent.

Doing individual work out-of-hours is completely fine — as long as you're not doing it in a way that asks or encourages other people to work out-of-hours too.

At Spill, we define 'reasonable hours' as 8am to 7pm. That definitely doesn't mean you're expected to work all of those hours; it just means that we deem those reasonable hours to be contacted in. Some people like to start earlier, others prefer to keep working a bit later.

These are company-wide rules that you agree to as part of your Spill employee contract.

  1. Use Slack's 'schedule for later' feature for any Slack messages or posts that are out of reasonable hours. Seeing people posting on Slack outside of hours encourages 'work FOMO' and makes everyone feel like they need to be online and responsive.
  2. Use Gmail's 'schedule send' feature for any emails that are out of reasonable hours. This includes both internal and external emails. We have a responsibility not to create harmful standards for people in the wider Spill network too: customers, investors, etc.
  3. Don't call (or video call) a colleague out of reasonable hours. Unless they've specifically told you that you can on that day for a specific reason or regarding a particular project. Just send a scheduled message for first thing tomorrow morning instead.
  4. Don't use WhatsApp for work-related messages, at any time. Once you start, it becomes easier for work-WhatsApping to continue outside of reasonable hours. Better not to go down that slippery slope: keep WhatsApp for non-work fun chat.
  5. Don't log onto Slack or read messages outside of reasonable hours if you don't want to. Part of the responsibility lies with us as individuals to set good boundaries for ourselves. For more information on how to improve your boundary-setting, see the resources section below.
  6. Don't talk about working outside of reasonable hours. Throwaway comments about working until midnight or working on a Sunday may seem harmless, but over time they affect expectations, and expectations become culture. It makes sense: you've slaved away for hours, and you want the emotional reward of a colleague saying "well done". But that, conversely, shows you've failed the test of whether you were working because you really wanted to or whether you felt you had to: if you truly want to work outside reasonable hours, you don't need the validation for it afterwards. Instead of saying "I stayed up until 10pm last night finishing that presentation", just say "I finished that presentation".

For all the above, the exception is if the situation is an emergency. An emergency at Spill refers to something that, if left unaddressed before the next working day, might bring about harm (actual or reputational) to a Spill user, Spill client company, Spill employee, Spill therapist, or Spill itself.

Remember: someone else's urgency is not your emergency!

We want as many companies as possible to start standing up for their employees' right to disconnect. That's why we're making this policy open source: feel free to copy or amend all or any part of it. You can download the policy here. The document can be duplicated and edited. If you have any questions, or if you do put in place a 'right to disconnect' policy at your company, email will@spill.chat. He'd love to hear from you.


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