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Contacting employees outside of work hours? It could be bad for business

Are you often contacting your employees outside of work hours? Whether it’s the odd email here and there, or a little task that needs to be done, those little messages could be really bad news for your business. 

Work hours, when we’re working from home

Over the pandemic, a huge shift occurred in how employees in the UK work. With everyone being forced to work from home in 2020, many are now electing to continue working remotely, with some companies transitioning to remote working permanently. 

Reports suggest that those working from home are more productive than those working in an office; however, this has also meant that the lines between work time and free time are becoming more and more blurred.

Remote working has decreased the amount of boundaries around the working day. Those working from home are reportedly working longer hours, longer work weeks, taking less time for lunch and not taking time off due to sickness. 

This has huge ramifications for businesses and individuals; increasing the amount of time at work at the expense of leisure time puts employees at greater risk of mental health issues and burnout.  

Portugal’s new remote working laws

In November, Portugal established remote working rules in order to assist those working from home. These included guidelines around contacting workers outside of work hours; the law states that this should be avoided, except under exceptional circumstances. 

The rules also stated that companies should pay workers for additional personal expenses incurred at home, including internet bills and electricity. Employers are also not permitted to monitor employees when they work from home, and that they are expected to provide workers with the appropriate equipment to do their job remotely.

Portugal was the first European country to establish these laws; the UK has very few laws aimed solely at remote working. Although those working from home are still covered by existing legislation, this is more difficult to monitor when employees aren’t in the office. 

Legally, employees shouldn’t be working more than 48 hours a week (unless agreed to in your contract). But for those who have access to work emails on their smartphones, it can be difficult to ignore a notification appearing from your manager, or a client. 

Why businesses shouldn’t be contacting their employees

As a manager, you’re constantly communicating with your employees directly and indirectly. Emailing an employee outside of work hours is communicating very clearly with your employee; it states that you’re still working, and that there is an expectation that they should still be working too. Whilst employees may email back and continue working past their agreed work hours in the short term, this will have an effect on how they feel about working with your company in the long term.

‘The Great Resignation’ is the term used to describe the amount of employees that have resigned their jobs in the last year. With a huge amount of people planning to resign within the next few months, businesses need to start thinking about retention, or face a huge loss of talent (as well as the financial cost of replacing and training new employees). Businesses that don’t respect their employees working hours are at risk of losing their staff to companies that do.

What can businesses do?

If you enjoy burning the midnight oil, but want to avoid pressuring your employees to do the same, there’s a couple of things you can do.

  • Schedule, don’t send

    If you realise you’re working past your end time, schedule any emails to send at the beginning of the next work day. That way, it’s off your to-do list, but it isn’t immediately on someone else’s. 

  • Chat about your employee’s workload

    If you feel that your employees are routinely working past their finish time, it’s time to have a conversation. Have a chat about how they’re managing their workload, how achievable their goals are, and if necessary, find ways to reduce it.

  • Take your foot off the gas

    The easiest way to respect your employees' work hours is to start respecting your own. Working late and tired is a surefire way to produce poor quality work, and increases the risk of burnout. 

Setting boundaries around your start and finish time is good for you, your staff and your business. If you’re still feeling the pressure around a deadline, think before passing that pressure onto one of your employees - it could be the reason that they start looking elsewhere.

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