In news that might make you wish you lived in Portugal, employers there can now be penalized for contacting their employees after work hours, according to a new law passed last Friday. The penalties would entail increased expenses — like gas and electricity bills — to be paid to employees for making them work longer hours.
The Portuguese parliament passed the law to address the blurring of work-life boundaries, and its impact on individuals’ mental health. The legislators’ goal was to promote better work-life balance through a healthier remote working culture.
“The pandemic has accelerated the need to regulate what needs to be regulated,” Ana Mendes Godinho, Portugal’s minister of labor and social security, said in a statement. She believes “telework [or, working from a location outside the office] can be a ‘game changer’ if we profit from the advantages and reduce the disadvantages.”
Godinho is right. While many people admitted enjoying remote-working more than reporting to an office every day, the dilution of work-life balance it has brought upon continues to remain one of the biggest problems with the WFH-model. Some experts even believe it’s a “public health issue.”
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Office closures, alongside the limitation on people’s social lives due to the pandemic, led employers to assume people were “always available.” But “just because we can be connected to work all the time, doesn’t mean we should be. Policymakers need to take concrete action to protect workers’ rights to switch off,” Anna Cox, a professor of human-computer interaction at University College London, told The Conversation.
Reports suggest the blurring of boundaries can translate into burnout for many. It is hardly surprising then that amid the Covid19 pandemic, when people were forced to work from the confines of their homes, one in every three Indian professionals was found to be dealing with work-related burnout.
In fact, working from home even blurred boundaries between weekdays and weekends for many with one’s work hours spilling all over their time. “Working from home has diluted the work-and-home boundary. People working at odd hours, with no clear breaks in between, in addition to social isolation — has led to dullness accumulating. There is almost no chance of a mental recharge on weekends anymore,” Ankita Jain, psychologist, told The Swaddle last year. “Earlier, we could assure ourselves that another weekend will come soon. But, under lockdown, there’s no break from the grind, and our mind doesn’t really get to recover,” she explained.
Unfortunately, for India, with no legislation to ensure better work-life balance in sight at the moment, perhaps, the blurring of work-life boundaries will continue to wreak havoc on the lives of the country’s working population.
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Portugal’s new law, however, only applies to companies with 10 or more employees. The Portuguese parliament also rejected a proposal — termed “right to disconnect” — that sought to give employees a legal right to switch off their work devices as soon as their designated shift ends.
The same law, however, is already in effect in France since early 2017. French laws, in a bid to ensure employers don’t encroach upon their employees’ personal- and family-time through calls and emails, suggest that employees are under no obligation to respond to work-related communication outside of their work hours.
In a way, the pandemic taught us that the conventional model — traveling to an office every day and sitting amid a set of colleagues one may or may not like while everyone rushes to get done with work — isn’t an absolute necessity on the path to productivity.
Now, the next step is to ensure the new work models — be it remote, hybrid, or flexible — don’t “replicate existing bad practices,” as Lynda Gratton, a professor of management practice at London Business School, wrote in the Harvard Business Review.