How to set healthy boundaries for your always-on staff

As research finds that half of employees feel pressured to respond out of hours, defined wellbeing contracts could be part of the solution.

by Caitlin Powell
Last Updated: 10 Jun 2022

More than half of employees say they feel obligated to answer work emails and calls out of hours, research reveals.

A poll of ​​4,225 workers, conducted by YouGov for Business in the Community (BITC), found that 55% felt pressured to respond to calls or check emails after working hours, with just 45% saying they feel that they can switch off from work.

The survey also found that, over the last two years, two in five (41%) employees have had to work overtime and/or struggled to take annual leave due to workload, compared to just 35% in 2020. 

And more than half (54%) of employees said they had too many priorities or targets, up from 51% in 2020.

The data showed employers needed to understand the underlying factors driving the ‘always on’ culture, said Rachel Suff, wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, by ensuring workloads and targets were realistic and encouraged people to switch off. 

“Managers need to role model healthy behaviour by not emailing their team out of hours and not working when ill,” she said, warning that “otherwise there’s a risk of work-related stress and higher sickness absence in the long run”.

Of the survey respondents who worked from home, half (49%) said they felt they could switch off from work, compared to 45% of employees who travel to and from work each day.

Meanwhile, among all workers polled, two-thirds (65%) said that work-life balance was extremely important to them, but only 29% said they had the flexibility to alter the start and finish times of their working day.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community (BITC), cautioned that employers risked losing talent to people who wanted flexibility and a better work-life balance. “Businesses need their teams to be their absolute best at work, and employees must have the flexibility to do their jobs that balance with their lives outside of the workplace,” she said.

As a result, she advised firms to create boundaries to ensure employees can switch off outside of their core working hours, adding: “It’s up to senior leaders to ensure that those boundaries are in place.”

This was echoed by Gemma Bullivant, an independent HR coach and consultant, who said firms needed to “strike the right balance between expecting others to respect our boundaries, and making those boundaries clear in the first place”.

She suggested employers create a “wellbeing contract” with employees that set both boundaries and defined wellbeing measures that work for staff.


This article originally appeared in MT's sister title, People Management

Image credit: Luis Alvarez via Getty Images

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