Right to Disconnect

How the Right to Disconnect will impact SMEs– and how they can start preparing now

by Angus Jones

There’s less than two months until the ‘Right to Disconnect’ comes into force. The policy, which legally allows employees to avoid work-related communications outside their regular working hours, is already raising questions amongst small business owners about how this will impact their operations and team dynamics.

With the Closing Loopholes No.2 Act scheduled to take effect on 26 August 2024, Australian businesses will be rushing to make preparations over the next two months. Fortunately for SMEs with less than 15 employees, the clause will only come into effect next year in August 2025. Regardless, early preparation will help to prevent unnecessary compliance issues further down the line.

What is the Right to Disconnect?

The right to disconnect allows employees to legally ignore work emails, messages, and calls outside their contracted working hours (asides from exceptional circumstances or emergencies). The aim of this is to ensure employees are able to enjoy their personal time without feeling pressured to respond to work-related communications.

More broadly, this policy is in line with growing concerns about work-life balance and employee burnout, signifying a shift towards practices that prioritise employee welfare. But while the underlying intentions are good, SME leaders may worry that it could negatively affect business operations and financial outcomes.

SMEs face unique challenges

With SMEs characteristically operating with a lean team and tight budget, adhering to industrial relations (IR) reforms can pose a complex challenge. The structured boundaries set by the right to disconnect seem to conflict with the agility and constant engagement that is common in smaller businesses. Practices that are often vital to the innovation and growth of SMEs, like spontaneous collaboration and flexibility, will potentially be disrupted.

On a positive note, SMEs in Europe have dealt with similar reforms and many have adapted successfully. For example, businesses based in France have noted better employee well-being and job satisfaction, resulting in higher productivity. Australian SMEs can look to these examples to find effective strategies to maintain their innovative edge while complying with regulatory requirements.

Plan now, execute later

The question that remains is, what are the steps that SMEs can take now to prevent future compliance challenges? Here are key pillars for SMEs to base their strategies around in order to get a head start:

● Communication: It’s crucial not just to set, but to convey clear definitions and policies when it comes to work-related communications outside of working hours. Ensuring that employees grasp these policies will help manage expectations, and align employees’ work duties with the need for work-life balance.

● Trust: Aim to foster an environment based on trust where both employers and staff respect and understand the new boundaries. Allowing for some flexibility for employees in their schedule can be key to maintaining productivity while being compliant.

● Technology: Technology is key to facilitating asynchronous communications with your team. Tools that accommodate differences in time zones without requiring a constant online presence can help keep productivity levels high without breaching the right to disconnect.

● Work-life balance: Ensuring employees have a healthy work-life balance will not only help avoid a compliance issue, but can increase motivation and reduce burnout. A workplace culture that is supportive can lead to higher job satisfaction, and ultimately result in higher productivity levels.

● Education: Implement training sessions to educate both employees and management on new policies and their effect on the workplace. Collaborative sessions help ensure everyone has a mutual understanding of the expectations and practices.

● External guidance: Reach out to external consultants with financial, legal, and HR expertise. Their insights can provide invaluable guidance, helping to identify and propose strategies to mitigate non-compliance risks.

The right to disconnect won’t come without its challenges; yet it presents a great opportunity for SMEs to revisit their work culture and practices. Being proactive and implementing these strategies early will help SMEs prepare for new policies, and create a healthier work environment.

European businesses that have effectively implemented similar laws serve as a valuable example for Australian SMEs seeking strategies to adapt and flourish under new policies. They have shown us that a drop in productivity does not have to be the outcome. Instead, the right to disconnect can help create a more engaged workforce who are committed to the future prosperity of the business.

Contributed by Matt Loop, VP and Head of Asia, Rippling

Other guides like this

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More