Here's our 'right to disconnect' employee policy in full

Being contactable at all hours is contributing to anxiety and burnout. This is how we're tackling the problem.

Author is therapist Graham Landi
Author
Grahamย Landi,
Spill Therapist &ย Manager Trainer

๐Ÿ‘‰ Get access to the full, editable version of our Right to Disconnect Policy ๐Ÿ‘ˆ
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(We'll email you a link to a Google Doc and Notion page of the policy, and will add you to our newsletter too โ€” but you can always unsubscribe later if it's not your thing.)

If you don't want a version of the policy that you can duplicate and edit, read on to learn more about the policy and why we introduced it.

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Why this policy exists

The flexible hours that come with remote and hybrid work are great โ€” letting the plumber in! Cooking an actual non-Pret meal for lunch! The occasional lie-in! โ€” 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 โ€” 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.

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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 โ€” as long as you're not doing it in a way that asks or encourages other people to work out-of-hours too.

This policy is made up of three components to help everyone enact their right to disconnect: (1) rules, (2) recommendations and (3) resources.

At Spill, we define 'reasonable hours' as 8am to 7pm GMT. 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.

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(1) Rules

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".

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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!

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Slack's 'schedule for later' feature: now mandatory at Spill for anything posted outside the hours of 8am - 7pm GMT

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(2) Recommendations

These are company-wide initiatives that aren't mandatory, but you can opt into when you want to disconnect from work communication.

  • Change the emoji in your Slack status when you're not working. This is an idea we got from one of the awesome companies we work with, Hedgehog Lab. If you're on a run, set your status to a running emoji. If you're walking the dog, pick the dog emoji. If you're taking a lunch break, use the avocado emoji. This does two things: makes sure people don't disturb you, and also normalises the idea of taking breaks during the day by making them more visible.
  • Take part in 'Deep Work Wednesdays'. We don't only need to disconnect from work communication to rest: sometimes we need it to get actual work done. We have an optional initiative at Spill called 'Deep Work Wednesdays', where people block out their calendar, turn off Slack notifications and put an email out-of-office on for the whole of Wednesday. It's a chance to take a break from notifications and enjoy getting into some uninterrupted 'flow state' work.
  • Take part in 'Let Them Go Walking'. Once a month, on the day where the temperature is highest above the historical average for that time of year, you'll receive an 45min invite in your diary from Spill that says 'LTGW'. The title is a nod to the Patagonia founder's philosophy of 'Let Them Go Surfing': he believed that when the surf was good, Patagonia employees should be able to clock off and go to the beach. Having some time to go on a little walk is our British equivalent.
  • Go to your end-of-day team meeting. As well as discussing progress and problems, one of the key questions asked in end-of-day team meetings is "what's blocking people from finishing work for the day now?". Whether that's postponing non-urgent work until tomorrow, sharing workload, or thinking of an easier way to solve a problem, the aim is to help everyone close their laptops on time.
  • Take part in team-wide trust-building exercises. We usually do these once every term, during planning week. They usually involve some form of team or paired conversation exercise where we try to open up, show vulnerability and connect with each other. Why is this important? Because the more interpersonal trust we have, the more secure we feel in ourselves within the team, and the less likely we are to seek the extra emotional assurance that comes from working evenings and weekends. Happy times.

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'Deep Work Wednesdays':ย one of our recommendations for disconnecting from work notifications when you need to get in the zone

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(3) Resources

These are things you can read, watch, listen to or enrol in if you're interested in how to get better at disconnecting from work.

  • Go through the slides from the 'Boundaries' training we had at Spill recently. Governments and employers can help set benchmarks and expectations around disconnecting from work, but part of it is down to us as individuals. We can all try to set clearer boundaries and be firmer about sticking to them. The 'Boundaries' training looks at what prevents us from setting them and how to go about setting better boundaries.
  • Watch the talk on 'How to (actually switch off from work)' (45min) that Spill did for Mental Health Awareness Week. The talk takes a deep dive into why we find it so hard to switch off from work in the modern world, and some of the social and psychological factors that are at play here, before going through some practical tips for how to get better at not working.
  • Read Maria's blog post on work's impossible bind. As mentioned in the recommendation to take part in team-wide trust-building exercises, part of the reason we keep working and responding to work messages out-of-hours is because of our need to belong. We want to feel part of a group and don't want to let people down, even though doing so makes everyone worse off. Having a better understanding of this vicious cycle can help us to break out of it.
  • Attend a Spill manager drop-in session to learn how to be a better role model and supporter when it comes to your team's work-life balance. Manager drop-in sessions are a 45min space to bring any people-related challenges and talk them through with one of Spill's therapists specialising in people management. It's a great space in which to discuss the issue and learn practical tips for how to help defend your reports' right to disconnect.
  • Book a one-off therapy session through the Spill Slack app. We couldn't not suggest this! One-off sessions on Spill are a space to explore anything and everything that's on your mind; you don't have to be experiencing poor mental health to book one. A great question to open your session with might be "why do I find it hard to switch off from work?". Often, a simple question like this can lead to unexpected and interesting places: perhaps the answer is rooted in your childhood, your formative experiences, how you've internalised definitions of success, your concept of self-worth, the kind of role models you have... To unlock the fruits of behaviour change, you often need to do the hard work of serious self-examination first.

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A slide from the 'Boundaries training' presentation

๐Ÿ‘‰ Get access to the full, editable version of our Right to Disconnect Policy ๐Ÿ‘ˆ
โ€

(We'll email you a link to a Google Doc and Notion page of the policy, and will add you to our newsletter too โ€” but you can always unsubscribe later if it's not your thing.)