Among the more positive news from its latest Employee Outlook report – eg, broad rises in job satisfaction and security – CIPD has uncovered potentially worrying indications that staff are finding it ever harder to mentally and digitally unplug from work outside office hours.

According to the report, 15% of respondents say that they are either rarely, or never, able to switch off, while 42% are only sometimes able to do so. Two-fifths of workers say that they always (15%) or occasionally (25% – classed as at least five times) – check their work mobile or emails in their own time.

In the wake of French legislation introduced earlier this year that guaranteed employees the right to disconnect from work-related technology, CIPD asked workers to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the idea that employees should have the right to switch off by not having to respond to work emails out of hours.

A clear majority (77%) either agreed, or strongly agreed, that employees should have the right to disconnect from workplace technology. Clearly, there’s a gnawing frustration among employees with these side-effects of flexible working. How can leaders help their staff to down tools and recharge?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's CEO Phil James says: “Flexible working brings with it an ability to have better control, to stagger your working day and to work your hours around other commitments. This means that your ability to go from the world of work to the world of non-work has to be much more finely attuned. Through pure necessity, you will often have to – for example – switch off at three o’clock and then switch back on again at six: a time at which staff with more standard hours will be making their way home.

“For employees in that more flexible position, the pattern and style of the working day has changed – so it’s not a surprise that people are finding it difficult. It’s all a question of whether or not that’s a problem. If employees are saying that they can’t switch off and have to keep on checking what’s happening with work because a) there will be adverse consequences if they don’t, b) they don’t trust their colleagues to handle matters in their absence, or c) they fear that projects will bend out of shape outside of their control, then clearly there are cultural issues that need to be examined.”

James adds: “Whatever their hours happen to be, if employees are unable to switch off because of anxiety or overload, then that’s something that their managers will have to address – and there has to be active encouragement of downtime. The spectres of burnout on the employee’s side and of taking advantage on the employer’s really come into focus when firms grasp that people who work longer hours are often less productive. There should be a cultural acceptance that you are allowed to switch off your phone, and that if you set up an autoreply that tells contacts you’re out of the office, then that absolutely means you’re not reading or replying to any emails.

“For managers, it’s about leading by example. It’s about articulating the benefits of proper work-life balance, the ability to rest from work – and to understand that people actually need this downtime so that they are more productive, more motivated and more inclined to do a better job.”

For further thoughts about how to improve your time management, check out this learning item from the Institute