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Guelph human resources expert welcomes proposed right to disconnect legislation

Nita Chhinzer, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, says the measure will empower workers
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Working from home can blur the lines between work and family time. File photo

Many Ontarians could soon get the right to disconnect outside of work hours under legislation introduced last week by the provincial government, and a Guelph expert in human resource issues says that's a step in the right direction. 

The legislation would require employers with 25 or more employees to develop disconnection-from-work policies, which could include expectations about response time for emails and encouraging employees to turn on out-of-office notifications when they are not working. 

"I think it's a great initiative," said University of Guelph associate human resources professor Nita Chhinzer. "Especially after people became increasingly accessible during the remote work environment."

Right to disconnect legislation has been billed as a positive step to improve workers' mental health and combat burn-out, and Chhinzer agrees.

Research shows blurring of the lines between work and family time is distressing for employees, said Chhinzer. That increased stress means employees are more likely to produce low quality work. It can also have negative consequences at home.  

"There is an increase in family dissolution based on work-based stress," Chhinzer said. "And a lot of times people just begin to find a situation unbearable to the point where they actually leave their employer. So it results in high levels of turnover as well."

Enabling employees to not think about work during their off time "is a step in the right direction," said Chhinzer.

While the legislation doesn't say anything about reducing the amount of work employees are expected to complete, Chhinzer said it could empower to tell their managers "this isn't something that I'm capable of doing within my set hours."

Plus, more time spent at work doesn't always equal more output. 

Chhinzer said while the number of hours employees put in has increased during the pandemic, for most knowledge workers, productivity has not. 

"Why? The extra hours were being consumed in team meetings and responding to email," she explained. "So these lower value tasks, I think that this will also help us reach out and say 'maybe I don't need to attend that meeting, being a silent partner on a virtual Zoom meeting that I'm only peripherally involved with."

Ultimately, the legislation will lead to positive knock-on affects for workers, Chhinzer believes.

"It empowers you to know what you're entitled to," she said. "To know what your limits are and to recognize where you need to ask for assistance when you need it."

- With files from Canadian Press


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Alison Sandstrom

About the Author: Alison Sandstrom

Alison Sandstrom is a staff reporter for GuelphToday
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