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Overcome employee burnout by embracing the right to disconnect

February 08, 2022

Overcome employee burnout by embracing the right to disconnect

Synopsis
5 Minute Read

As burnout and turnover levels continue to accelerate, new legislation offers a foundation for employers and employees to prioritize time away from the office

Senior Manager

New legislation aims to help employers slow rising turnover rates by encouraging clearer boundaries between home and work. 

Burnout is both one of the leading causes of voluntary turnover and an issue which has worsened with longer days and higher levels of work-related stress throughout the pandemic. Across the country, employers are reporting both lower productivity and workplace engagement, as well as a steady uptick in resignations.

Ad hoc measures are emerging in many organizations to help alleviate the impacts of burnout, but many of these efforts have seen mixed results so far. With many Ontario employees continuing to work remotely, it seems many organizations continue to struggle with how to create and enforce clear boundaries between home and work.

The Ontario government introduced new legislation in December 2021 to help combat this growing challenge. The Ontario Working for Workers Act aims to mitigate the impacts of employee burnout, primarily by provide Ontario workers the right to disconnect from work to spend more time with family.

Here we investigate the growing problem of worker burnout, your responsibilities under the new law, and additional insights to help you support employees and preserve your workforce amid rising resignations.

No respite from work

For many employees, the reality of working from home has not lived up to the benefits they once expected. Virtual meetings are exhausting and still somewhat awkward and there are fewer opportunities for serendipitous encounters or social engagements. Worst of all, though, the separation between work and home life is narrowing.

Without a train to catch or the need to make it home in time, it’s significantly easier for employees to spend “just a few more minutes” on work specific tasks — and those few additional minutes to quickly spiral into hours of additional work every day. The temptation is more irresistible for employers, too, to see team members still online and make a ‘quick’ last minute request before they log off for the day.

The home office has become both irresistibly magnetic and a constant reminder of all the loose ends they’re only ever a footstep or two away from addressing. Couple this with the lack of social functions and leisure trips out of the house due to business closures and stay at home orders, and you have a recipe for burnout at historically high levels.

Employers embracing creative ways to manage a work day

Many employers have seen the looming burnout epidemic coming and adopted policies and practices to minimize burnout and manage an increasingly challenged workforce.

Some limited employee access to office email systems and servers in off work hours to help control length of the workday. Others encouraged employees to take vacation, and/or provided access to programs that taught coping mechanisms. Many took multiple approaches to reinforce their commitment to a people first culture, reduce employee burnout, and minimize voluntary turnover.

However, with employee turnover rates surging to record highs throughout the pandemic, it’s clear not all these initiatives have been successful. Part of the problem could be difficulties enforcing disconnection policies, low uptake or engagement with training initiatives, or incongruent messaging which encourages people to disconnect yet rewards those who continue to log long hours.

The right to disconnect

Ontario’s Working for Workers Act (WWA) has amended the existing Employment Standards Act (ESA) to include a right to disconnect from work. With this change, employers with 25 or more employees must now have a written policy outlining the employee’s right to log off at the end of the day to spend more time with family.

The legislation is a direct result of workplace changes that have occurred throughout or because of the pandemic and seeks to address head on the growing impacts of employee burnout. Theoretically, it should support more clear, practical, and actionable boundaries between work and home life — and improve long term outcomes for both employers and employees.

Disconnecting from work provisions aren’t new in Ontario. For years, the ESA has had rules in place covering mandatory vacation and public holidays — even mandating employees have a minimum of 24 consecutive hours free from work every week. However, the introduction of new measures during the pandemic does have additional impact. 

There are complexities to managing a disconnect from work policy, including how to navigate exemptions for certain professional groups as well as supervisors and managers. Employers may also have difficulty monitoring employee behaviour to ensure policies are working as intended and people are taking the time allotted. Employers will need to think creatively about the unique rules that they wish to have in place so that every employee has support to minimize burnout regardless of profession or position.

The best way to navigate these challenges will be to approach the new legislation as an opportunity and an actionable framework to support health and wellness, rather than a mandate or compliance task.

Next steps for employers

We await the release of full regulations for more details on what the new legislation will require from employers and expectations from a policy / practice standpoint.

At this time, we do know employers with more than 25 employees will need to have an updated policy in place on March 1 of every year. This policy must be reviewed and approved between January 1 and March 1 of that year. For 2022, the policy deadline has been extended to Thursday, June 2 to give employers time to become compliant.

Given the continued rise in burnout and accelerating turnover numbers, we strongly encourage you to begin building your policy framework now. We also recommend regular updates to your team, letting them know you’re taking their challenges to heart and committed to their wellbeing. Use this opportunity to reiterate your commitment to employee health and wellbeing and the steps you’re taking to help your team members pursue a more balanced lifestyle.

MNP is here to help

While there are precedents for this kind of legislation in other global jurisdictions, it’s also important to recognize the unique qualities of your business, your workforce, and the Ontario economy. MNP’s Organization Renewal team can help you design an effective policy that meets the requirements of the WWA, serves your people, and minimizes any unintended disruption to your business. 

Our team can also consult on other effective practices and resources to reduce the impacts of burnout, improve retention, and help you adapt your business to our post-COVID reality.

Key takeaways

  • Burnout has risen sharply since the start of COVID-19 — Pandemic stress and the intricacies of remote work are having a significant impact on employee turnover and productivity.
  • Time away from work is critical — Employers that emphasize work / life balance realize benefits in better productivity, lower turnover, more consistent engagement.
  • Ontario introduces ‘right to disconnect from work’ — Employers with more than 25 staff must have a written policy in place by June 2, 2022, outlining how they’re empowering employees to disconnect.
  • Employers have an opportunity to create a more balanced and engaged workforce — Legislation provides a foundation, but employers have limitless opportunities to help employees adapt and thrive to the post-COVID work environment
  • Policy deadlines — 2022 policy must be in place by Thursday, June 2. In future years, a written policy must be reviewed and approved between January 1 and March 1. Policies must be provided to employees within 30 days of being written and new employees must receive the written policy within 30 days of hire.

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