The Importance of Psychological Disconnect

The Importance of Psychological Disconnect

Due to the restrictions and social distancing rules enforced by government bodies during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have had no choice but to function online, meaning employees have had to literally take their work home. This “new normal” of working from home, an option which has continued for many individuals post-pandemic, has blurred the boundaries between at work and not at work, and therefore largely diminished the ability to disconnect from work at the end of the day. As the world has transitioned to hybrid models and remote styles of working, management teams face the new challenge of implementing boundary management strategies that ensure employees can disconnect from work to prevent burnout.

Burnout, discussed in our previous blog, is “a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job” (as defined by an article in the Journal of World Psychiatry), and has a significant impact on the operations, output and efficiency of your organization. Forbes Human Research Centre suggests that the modern world demands a higher level of productivity means there is a trend in the way that businesses are increasingly creating the expectation for employees to work overtime, with some even offering overtime pay and days in lieu as incentives. Their article, however, warns against this and suggests this causes work-life balance to suffer and employees are more likely to experience symptoms of burnout.

What is detachment from work?

In a study found in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour, the term “detachment” is attributed to the scholarship of Etzion, Eden, Lapidot who published into respite literature, that detachment is defined as an: “individual’s sense of being away from the work situation” as early as 1998. Later research has found and advocated for an additional level of detachment on a mental and psychological level. Psychological detachment goes beyond the physical disconnect from work, and is defined in an article in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology as referring to: “an individual’s experience of being mentally away from work, to make a pause in work-related issues.”

The impacts working remotely, and technology has had on our ability to disconnect

The difficulty disconnecting from work could largely be due to the increased reliance on technology during remote work, that enables 24/7 connectivity to other employees. Additionally, most communication platforms used by internal teams make it visible when employees are “online” or “offline”, creating a sense of employee guilt and obligation. Additionally, hybrid and remote work have created more flexible schedules, meaning some prefer to begin work and finish the workday early, with some preferring the opposite. While employees may value this kind of flexibility surrounding their scheduling, it may pose challenges for dysconnectivity. Late starters may still make attempts at work-related communication when early finishers are done for the day, making it hard for individuals to switch off after their work hours are completed.

Not only has the increased reliance on technology further increased the difficulty of disconnecting from work, but it may actually be causing further burnout in itself. In the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, an article states: “people are now beginning to recognize a new phenomenon: tiredness, anxiety, or worry resulting from overusing virtual videoconferencing platforms—something researchers and journalists have begun calling “Zoom fatigue.” The study found that because humans use complex nuances within their communications, online platforms cause delays and thus a barrier to the brain’s registration of information, meaning we must subconsciously work harder to overcome and restore synchrony. Allowing employees to literally disconnect and ensure people are taking time offline for themselves is therefore an incredibly essential element of work detachment.

The “Right to Disconnect”

With this increased difficulty employees have faced in terms of their ability to disconnect from work, there have inevitably been emerging conversations surrounding how to combat this with a “Right to Disconnect”. The “Right to Disconnect” is a concept first implemented in France and is a law that passed to protect the rights of workers and their work-life balance. This law has since been adopted by four additional countries, as referenced in a report by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

There is no Canada-wide law stating an employee’s right to disconnect, however the province of Ontario has implemented a new legislation that states “employers that employ 25 or more employees are required to have a written policy on disconnecting from work in place for all employees” as published by the Government of Ontario. This legislation was passed December 2, 2021 and is a requirement added to the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

Following the lead of the progressive and forward-thinking rationale behind the “Right to Disconnect” recognizing the needs of your employees and allowing them to disconnect will in turn be beneficial to organizations.

Benefits of employee disconnect from work

  • Prevents emotional exhaustion. In the aforementioned study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior it is found that psychological detachment or disconnect from work is an effective tool of mediation in the kind of job-related stressors and strains that are positively correlated with emotional exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion of employees has been proven to have a significant impact on both the productivity of your organization and the attitude of your workers.
  • Prevents burnout. Studies have found that giving employees the ability to effectively disconnect psychologically can reverse the effect of burnout, fatigue and work unproductivity. The importance of effective solutions to mitigating employee burnout can be found within our previous blog ‘Debunking Myths Surrounding Solutions to Burnout’
  • Promotes work-life balance. Not only is promoting work-life balance an effective way of mitigating both emotional exhaustion and burnout, but this also has a positive effect on an organizations employee retention rate. Individuals are far more likely to stay with an employer that shows an interest for their personal wellbeing and life beyond the workplace. Additionally, this helps build trust among employers and employees and increases their connection to the workplace.
  • Higher productivity levels. If your employees are suffering from work-related exhaustion, their productivity and rates of engagement will also suffer. Encouraging employees to disconnect and take time away from their work will, in the long run, foster their ability for more focussed work—meaning giving time off is worth it.

Ways to help your employees disconnect

There are many ways to encourage your employees to disconnect at the end of the workday. For example:

  • If you are someone who likes to adjust your work schedule, so you begin earlier than the rest of your team’s workday starts, ensure you are scheduling your emails rather than pushing through work-related communications before they are expected to be available.
  • Do not allow employees to have their work email or internal messaging platforms on their personal devices, especially mobile phones.
  • To avoid the effect of ‘Zoom Fatigue’ setting in among your team, try and incorporate “in-office” time as far as it suits your team.
  • Ensure work-life balance skills are part of the workplace health and wellness programs you implement.
  • Prohibit work communications during an employee’s time off.
  • Ensure employees are taking their allotted time off and incorporate mental health or personal days into your holiday scheme.
  • Avoid rewarding employees who work outside their designated hours regularly.
  • Set clear expectations about when employees are expected to be reachable and when they should be offline.
  • Set a new policy that makes it prohibited to work after hours, unless permission is given due to uncontrollable circumstances
  • If you have allowed your employees to set their own work hours, ensure they are visibly published to the rest of the team so everyone can see who is available and when.

Hines Health Services has several offerings which may help bring healthier habits into your workplace including Health Promotion Presentations, Return to Work Programs and Occupational Health Services. Get in touch with us to learn more. Call toll-free at 1-844-893-6909.

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