Why employees should disconnect from work, and feel good about it

While legislation can serve as a foundation for employees to disconnect from work, true change requires a cultural shift.
By: | March 6, 2024

Fuelled by a combination of societal expectations, fear of job loss, and the relentless pursuit of career advancement, overworked cultures are increasingly emerging in Asia.

The constant pressure this brings, is in turn leading to burnout, plummeting productivity, and a host of health issues, observed Elisa Mallis, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Center for Creative Leadership (CCL).

She told HRM Asia, “As we confront this malady of an overworked culture leading to burnout, Australia’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ legislation could serve as a potential antidote for organisations facing similar challenges.”

Expected to be passed soon under a proposed parliamentary Bill, Australia’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ legislation forbids employers from unreasonably and constantly contacting their employees after designated working hours.

It also empowers employees to reclaim their personal lives, said Mallis, who added, “The legislation presents an intriguing path to cultivating a healthier and more balanced work-life balance and could be the key to unlocking a more sustainable future for employees across Asia.”

When employees start to prioritise their wellbeing and stop responding to work correspondence outside designated working hours, the potential benefits to be gained include:

  • Reduced burnout: Disconnecting fosters recovery, prevents exhaustion and safeguards mental health.
  • Improved productivity: Well-rested employees are more focused and efficient, leading to higher quality work.
  • Enhanced employee satisfaction: Respecting personal time boosts morale and engagement, fostering a more positive work environment.
  • Reduced absenteeism: Employees with better work-life balance are less likely to miss work due to stress-related illnesses.

However, it is arguable whether the proposed legislation in Australia would work across Asia; not only because of the cultural adjustments that would be required, but also the mindsets that would need to be changed.

In Singapore, for example, Mallis sees intense competition and high societal expectations driving an “always-on” mentality that compels employees to work excessive hours.

She explained, “There is a fear of being perceived as lazy, which can hinder career advancement. However, the productivity paradox clearly reveals that additional work hours result in diminishing returns beyond a certain point; leading to exhaustion, decreased work quality, and eventual burnout.”

Even without introducing legislation, there are core principles employers in Asia can adopt to help employees battle burnout:

  • Culturally sensitive communication: Clearly communicate expectations and encourage open dialogue about workload and boundaries.
  • Flexible work arrangements: Promote remote work and flexible hours to accommodate individual needs and responsibilities. The right hybrid work arrangement and special policies like a ‘work from anywhere’ policy that can go into effect a certain number of days per year can also support flexibility in the workplace. 
  • Managerial training: Equip managers to recognise and address signs of overwork and encourage employees to disconnect.  Helping employees burn bright can be supported by systematic programmes and individual coaching and mentoring. 
  • Technology solutions: Utilise tools that automatically shut down work communication outside designated hours. 

While legislation can serve as a foundation, true change requires a cultural shift where organisations actively promote respect for personal time and encourage employees to disconnect, Mallis added.

READ MORE: Right to disconnect: Australia says no to after-work calls

She encouraged leaders to lead by example by actively disconnecting and setting boundaries, recognise and reward employees who prioritise their wellbeing, and encourage open conversations about workload, stress, and boundaries without repercussions.

“Addressing overworked cultures in Asia requires a multi-pronged approach. By learning from Australia’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ legislation and fostering a culture of respect for personal time, organisations can empower employees to prioritise their well-being, leading to a more productive, engaged, and sustainable workforce. This shift will benefit not only individuals but also organisations and society, paving the way for a healthier and happier future,” Mallis concluded.