Your boss won’t be able to call you after hours by August – here’s why

The 'right to disconnect' is the hero for workplace burnout.

At first, the concept of ‘work from home’ saw Australian employers and employees promoting a healthy work-life balance. Contrary to this work-life harmony, the ‘work from home’ scheme actually saw employers encroaching on employee’s personal time more and more. In response to this, the government has enacted a ‘right to disconnect’ to protect the mental wellbeing of workers across Australia.

What is the right to disconnect? 

Though for some professions, being contacted outside of work hours, working on holiday and doing a tonne of overtime was not only normal, but mandatory. Now that we bring our laptops home and can even work on our phones, this ‘after-hours’ culture has seeped into just about every industry and profession.

In response to this pervasive phenomenon, the Australian government has introduced a raft of legislation centred around the ‘right to disconnect’ which is due to come into effect on 26 August 2024.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the right to disconnect means that employees can refuse contact outside their working hours – unless that refusal is deemed to be unreasonable.

“This legislation is a great step for starting a conversation about boundaries and employer expectations around working out of hours, and it gives employees another data point to use when advocating for themselves,” says Tammi Miller, therapist and founder of BARE Therapy.

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Why do we need a ‘right to disconnect’?

The discourse – and eventuating legislation – came about as a response to the significant riser in work-related mental health issues from employers encroaching on employees’ personal time. 

In fact, a recent survey conducted by recruitment specialists Robert Walters says that 40 per cent of professionals check their emails or engage with work in some form even when they’re on holidays.

But it’s not just working while on leave, 71 per cent of professionals say they don’t even feel refreshed after taking their holiday allowance. Essentially, this means that a good majority of us are suffering burnout – and women are overrepresented in this phenomenon.

“Australian workers reported the highest burnout rates in the world,” says Brooke Taylor, an award winning career coach who says women suffer burnout disproportionately to men. “Just like there’s a wage gap, there is also a burnout gap. 

According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace report, the burnout gap between men and women has nearly doubled since 2020,” says Brooke. “Working mums are 28 per cent more likely to experience burnout than working dads.”

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How to set boundaries at work

In the wake of the right to disconnect legislation and discourse, setting boundaries at work has been a topic of increasing importance. 

Tammi Miller says that whilst boundary-setting can be uncomfortable, it’s a necessary skill for us to learn in our working life.

“It’s not until we start to set boundaries that we realise how helpful they can be. The first one is always the hardest to set.

“Many women are innate people pleasers, because we’ve needed to seem amenable to advocate for equal pay and equal opportunities. That’s why we can be first to order the office cakes or stationery when asked, even if it’s not actually our job. We can fill our time with tasks that make it harder for us to later set those boundaries.”

For more tips on managing personal and professional boundaries to protect your mental wellbeing, you can purchase Tammi Miller’s book Paperback Therapyhere.

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