Disconnecting after work

Disconnecting after work – an employee’s right or an employer’s responsibility?

In the modern world of work, the lines between personal and professional time are becoming increasingly blurred. With the rise of mobile devices and remote work, many employees find themselves constantly connected to their work, even after working hours. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in South Africa, where employers have a tendency to contact employees after hours.

According to Nicol Myburgh, Head: HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, while this may seem harmless, the practice of contacting employees after working hours can have negative effects on both the employee and the employer. He cites several reasons why employers should avoid contacting their employees after hours.

Strictly speaking, it’s a violation of labour legislation, says Myburgh. “South Africa has strict labour laws that protect the rights of employees. According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, employees are entitled to a maximum of 45 hours of work per week, which includes any time spent responding to work-related communications outside of working hours. By contacting employees after hours, employers are essentially asking them to work for free, which is a violation of their rights.”

Employers need to remember that while they have every right to send their employees an email after working hours, the employees also have the right not to respond, Myburgh adds. “In fact, expecting an employee to always respond to communications at any hour of the day or night could even be perceived as a form of bullying, and the employee could invoke the Code of Good Practice on Harassment as a means of protecting their rights to stay offline after hours.”

Not disconnecting after work can lead to burnout

Working long hours without any downtime can also lead to burnout, he continues. “This is a serious condition that can cause physical and mental health problems. By contacting employees after hours, employers are effectively denying them the opportunity to switch off and recharge their batteries. This can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and high staff turnover rates.

“Additionally, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for overall wellbeing, and employers who contact employees after hours are effectively encroaching on their personal time, which can harm relationships with family and friends, leading to resentment and a lack of motivation.”

International trends 

Countries such as France and Kenya have already outlawed after-hour calls and emails from bosses, while Kenya recently proposed the Employment Amendment Bill, which seeks to protect workers against doing extra work without pay.

While it remains to be seen whether South Africa will follow a similar route, in the meantime, Myburgh says nothing prevents companies from implementing a policy that prohibits after-hour communications between employers and employees.

“This being said, it is important to remember that in any working environment, employees may be required to work overtime in order to get the job done. But employers should take care not to make this the norm or they may be faced with unwanted consequences,” he concludes.

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