More evidence has emerged that employees tend to respond to out-of-hours-work-related communications out of fear of denting their chances of career progress or even facing a backlash.

According to a Eurofound survey on the right to disconnect 61% said they  replied as they were seriously concerned that failing to do so could land them in hot water with the management. Moreover, half of the respondents said that replying to such calls would enhance their chances of career progression within the organisation.

The research was carried out earlier this year in Belgium, France, Italy and Spain through employee surveys and questionnaires among human resources managers.

The increasing use of digital mobile devices and the trend – accelerated during the pandemic – towards more remote and flexible working have brought with them advantages and some disadvantages. One of the key disadvantages relates to the risks arising from over-connection – or an ‘always-on culture’  which can lead to the performance of additional working hours and insufficient rest periods. These can negatively impact not only the work–life balance but also job satisfaction and general well-being.

The following are some of the key findings:

  • Over 70% of workers in companies with a right to disconnect policy consider that its impact has been very or somewhat positive; 26% considered that there has been no impact.
  • Over 80% of workers surveyed reported receiving work-related communications outside their contractual working hours during a typical working week. Almost three-quarters reported being contacted by colleagues out of hours every day or on some days; 67% are contacted by line managers. The vast majority (almost 9 out of 10) of respondents responded to such communications, with one in four replying to all calls and messages received out of hours.
  • Around 45% of workers surveyed responded that a right to disconnect policy is in place in their company. Of these, 80% consider that the policy applies to them. However, only half of respondents in companies with a right to disconnect policy are aware of actions having been taken to implement it.
  • The following are the most cited reasons for responding to out-of-hours work-related communications: feeling responsible for one’s assignments (82%), wishing to stay ‘on top of things’ (75%), because it is expected (75%), fear of a negative impact if no response is provided (61%) and the expectation of better career progression (50%).
  • Almost half of the respondents regularly work more hours than they are contracted for, most frequently to complete tasks that they were unable to finish during contractual working hours (37%). Over one-third of workers work additional hours at the explicit request of managers, and fewer than one-fifth (17%) do so mainly because they are contacted out of hours. Additional hours worked because employees are contacted by managers, colleagues or clients out of hours is the type of overtime for which workers are least likely to be compensated financially.
  • Having a right to disconnect does not appear to reduce the likelihood of workers being contacted out of hours or responding to such communication. However, a larger share of respondents from companies without a right to disconnect policy report working additional hours because they are contacted out of hours than respondents from companies with such a policy (19% compared with 14%). In companies with a right to disconnect policy, additional hours are worked mainly based on agreed overtime and workers are more likely to be compensated for working additional hours through pay or time off. This is particularly true regarding additional hours worked due to being contacted out of hours.
  • Satisfaction with work–life balance was generally high among all those surveyed, with 85% of workers indicating that their working hours fitted in with family and other commitments very well (25%) or fairly well (60%). However, workers in companies with a right to disconnect policy reported having a better work–life balance than workers in companies with no such policy (92% compared with 80%).

Though the study provides quantitative evidence supporting the introduction of company policies on the right to disconnect with respect to work–life balance, health and well-being, and overall job satisfaction, this is clearly insufficient. Such policies must be combined with awareness raising, effective implementation measures, ongoing joint monitoring and review by management and employee representatives, as well as measures to tackle the causes of over-connection.