Last month, Brooklyn, New York council member Rafael Espinal introduced a bill that would prevent employers from requiring employees to check emails and other work-related communications outside of the employees’ usual work hours.
The Disconnecting from Work bill would apply to businesses with 10 or more employees, which would be fined $250 per employee for not following the rules. Employers would incur further penalties for retaliating against employees, or in cases of employees being fired.
"There's a lot of New Yorkers out there that don't know when their work day begins or when their work day ends, because we're all so tied to our phones," Espinal told CNN affiliate WCBS. "You can still work, you can still talk to your boss, but this just is saying that, when you feel like you've hit your boiling point and you can't do it anymore, you're able to disconnect and decompress for a while."
France passed a similar law in 2016. The country's "right to disconnect" law requires companies with more than 50 workers to create a charter of good conduct, outlining the hours that employees can send or answer emails.
Both bills have incited discussion about their effectiveness and relevance. These conversations highlight a key point: employees are looking to employers to take responsibility for recognizing how lack of work-life balance can impact employee health and productivity, and managing it accordingly.
A recent research article in the Harvard Business Review says that employee loneliness should be important to managers and senior leaders. He writes:
“The U.K. found loneliness to be such an issue, they have appointed a Minister of Loneliness to head up the daunting task of figuring out solutions to what the former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy calls “the most common pathology,” with nearly 40% of Americans reporting being lonely.”
The authors add that lonelier workers don’t perform as well, quit more often and are more dissatisfied with their jobs. BetterUp and author Shawn Achor conducted a survey of American workers to understand employees who were most at-risk for feeling lonely at work, and understand how best to support connections amongst employees in the workplace.
Their research found that tenure, gender, race, ethnicity and salary weren’t predictors for loneliness. The factors that did impact loneliness, however, were people’s professions, and their social networks outside of work.
The research further found that colleagues and managers are in the best positions to identify loneliness. Here’s what the authors said about how they can help:
“Our study suggests that the single most impactful leadership behavior you can undertake to counteract loneliness is to create opportunities for building shared meaning with colleagues. Understand what makes their work meaningful to them, and then connect that to what makes it meaningful for you.”
All companies in the U.K. with more than 250 employees were required to report gender pay information by midnight on Wednesday, April 4. More than 10,000 businesses published their data, which revealed a reported median pay gap of 9.7%, according to the BBC. The numbers also indicated that 78% of companies pay men more than women on average.
The data was filed based on a “snapshot date,” which was April 5, 2017 for most employers. The Guardian points out that the data isn’t perfect, because “due to exemptions, high-level executives, including partners and non-employed, typically low-paid workers are not included in the data.”
But it does make conversations about the pay gap a lot harder to ignore, and opens the door for employers to begin addressing hard questions – and that includes the 1,500 or so employers who haven’t yet reported their information.
As Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told the BBC:
"We want them [firms] to look at their flexible working practices, we want to look at them tackling bias, conscious and unconscious, and we're looking to them to address instances of pregnancy and maternity pay discrimination, which is rising in this country."
Home Department Secretary of State Amber Rudd added in the Guardian that transparency leads to action.
“Businesses should see reporting gender pay gap data as just the first step on the road to creating fairer and more equal workplaces across the U.K.,” she said. “They should be putting action plans in place to break down the barriers to women’s progression in their organizations.”