Burnout and the Right to Disconnect

by | May 23, 2023 | 0 comments

One common theme I see in my well-being coaching practice is clients looking for a healthier work life balance. Work life balance means different things to different people. A healthy work life balance for me might look very different to what you consider a healthy work life balance.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no doubt remote working and hybrid working has brought with it increased flexibility. With all its advantages it has blurred the lines between home and work.

My clients are telling me they are constantly “on”. There is no boundary between home and work. Many parents are struggling with being present for their kids. For example, they are routinely emailing or calling work colleagues while the kids are doing their homework, or they are taking a telephone call on work matters from their boss during soccer practice. In a way, this might feel productive, and you are multi-tasking, but the reality is that it is causing stress and even burnout. I have seen many clients who are struggling with burnout, and I feel we are only tipping the surface of this issue.


Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress, involves too much, too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. Burnout is about not enough.

Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. It can have a series impact of an employee’s mental health. The physical signs of burnout can include lowered immunity, frequent illnesses, frequent headaches, or muscle pain, change in appetite and sleep habits. The emotional signs of burnout include a sense of failure and self-doubt, feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated. It can also result in a loss of motivation and increasingly cynical and negative outlook. The behavioural signs of burnout include withdrawing from responsibilities, isolating from others, procrastinating, using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope, taking out frustrations on others and skipping work. We can see form this the impact burnout has on an employee’s mental health.

Creating boundaries and having the right to disconnect from work might go a small way in relieving the burnout crisis.

What is the Right to Disconnect?

From April 1, 2021, Irish employees were given the “Right to Disconnect”. The Workplace Relations Commission has created the “Right to Disconnect” code.

This code works alongside existing legislation around working hours, breaks and workplace health and safety. It is hoped the code will encourage more of a focus on employee wellness and mental health.



What does the Right to Disconnect mean for Employees?

The code supports employees to set boundaries around their working hours without being punished in any way. Shutting down the laptop in the understanding that you’re not going to be disturbed outside normal working hours will help employees relax and establish better work habits and practice.

If employees are often contacted outside their normal working hours, forced to work through their rest periods or are penalised in any way for not being contactable outside of normal working hours they should contact their manager, HR, or their trade union representative.

It should be noted that it is not illegal to break the Right to Disconnect code, employees can bring a case to the Labour Court, or Workplace Relations Commission.

What does the Right to Disconnect mean for Employers?

For employers, the Right to Disconnect Code means they should not be contacting their employees outside of normal working hours. There is no doubt there will be exceptions. Employees are generally open to exceptions as there will be times when contact is necessary. These exceptions should not become the norm. This is when problems are started to arise for employees.

Another option issues is emails being sent outside of normal working hours. Flexible working means just that! I have worked with many clients where flexibility to them means logging off early to collect their children from school or to take them to their after-school activities. To be able to do this, it suits them to log back in later in the evening. That is what they consider a good work life balance to be. For these employees, they may be sending email outside of normal working hours. Such emails should include a footer that reminds the recipient that there is no requirement to respond immediately. This can go a long way to support employees and it should be modelled by senior leadership in the organisation.

Organisations have been encouraged to work with their employees to create a Right to Disconnect policy that works for everyone. Check out your organisations Right to Disconnect policy. It should be available from your Human Resources function.

Right to Disconnect Policy

In general, a Right to Disconnect policy will have the following headings or categories.

  • Introduction
  • Wellbeing
  • Obligations on both the employer and employee
  • Working hours
  • Communications
  • Meetings, and
  • Raising concerns
  • Others


While the “Right to Disconnect” code will not solve the increasing issue of burnout, it will go some way in helping curb this issue.