How giving employees a ‘right to disconnect’ can tackle burnout

As hybrid and remote work become the standard for many American employees, the lines between home and work are increasingly blurred, with many employees feeling pressure to be “always on,” driving up stress and employee burnout. It’s a crisis that has fueled some lawmakers to push for employees to have a “right to disconnect.”

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Earlier this year, California legislators began considering a proposed Right-to-Disconnect bill. The bill would mandate that employers in the state clearly define non-working hours and grant employees the right to disconnect from work within that timeframe. It would also prohibit leaders from communicating with employees outside of defined working hours, except in emergencies or for scheduling changes.

However, the measure, which drew sharp criticism from employer groups, stalled this spring, and experts say it’s uncertain whether it will cross the finish line before the state’s legislative session ends later this year. While no states in the U.S. have adopted right-to-disconnect legislation yet, it is a movement that has gained traction in other countries, including Australia, Italy, Ireland, Argentina, Germany, France and Belgium.

Amy Mosher, chief people officer at HR management system provider isolved, says that, regardless of the outcome for the California bill, its proposal highlights the need for stronger employer action to prevent employee burnout. She points out, for example, that around 65% of employees said they suffered from burnout in 2023, according to an isolved report.

The same research found employee burnout has decreased somewhat compared to 2022, but it’s still heavily affecting productivity; in fact, 72% of employees said burnout directly impacted their performance.

“Employees experiencing poor mental health, whether due to workplace stressors or personal struggles, are more likely to be disengaged at work, making holistic wellness strategies key to reducing that burnout,” she says.

Addressing employee burnout without a ‘right-to-disconnect’ law

Mosher says organizations have a responsibility to create and promote a positive work/life balance.

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Amy Mosher
Amy Mosher, isolved

“Just as employers provide physical health benefits, they should ensure their benefits packages address mental and emotional wellbeing, too,” Mosher says. For instance, she suggests the offering of mental health days—allowing employees paid time off when they feel too overwhelmed to work—or creating employee resource groups (ERGs).

She explains that ERGs can help create a safe, supportive culture to recognize mental health struggles and can be a place to share resources around mental health.

In lieu of mandated right-to-disconnect laws, Mosher says, HR and business leaders should work together to create a culture that enables employees to find balance, particularly through three overarching strategies:

  • Empowering employees through strong leadership: Leaders can play an instrumental role in building a culture of balance by encouraging employees to disconnect outside of work, leading by example. Mosher says it’s important to show employees that it’s acceptable to disconnect from work after hours and take necessary breaks.
  • Addressing burnout through holistic wellness strategies: When organizations cultivate and enforce wellness habits that address physical, mental and emotional health, employees are less likely to experience burnout and feel bombarded by work obligations. This is an especially important topic as employees report underutilizing PTO due to high workload pressures.
  • Creating and enforcing communication hierarchies: Leaders should create team hierarchies and designate an “on-point” person or people for urgent, outside-of-office-hours items, which removes ambiguity around role responsibility.

“Consistent, genuine action from leadership will reinforce the organization’s commitment to employee wellbeing, reducing burnout and fostering a healthier, more productive work environment,” she says. “It also can reduce turnover—always a key goal.”

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].