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Australia is changing laws for working professionals

Working-from-home might become legal right of millions of Aussie citizens.

The Australian government's recent discussions regarding legislating work-from-home (WFH) options for its workforce have sparked a wave of interest and debate. While some hail it as a progressive step towards work-life balance, others raise concerns about its feasibility and potential impact on productivity. Let's delve deeper into this proposed policy, its potential ramifications, and the broader context surrounding it.

From Flexibility to Right to Disconnect:

Australia is eyeing for building healthy work-life balance for its working class. The government is in talks to regulate work-from-home options for Aussie working class. Australia is exploring regulations for mandatory WFH options with employer-provided compensation. As of today, there are no formal regulations on work-from-home options in Australia.

While discussing the law, the government cited research findings about work-from-home employees, highlighting that work-from-home does not decrease employee productivity, but allows them to juggle between their personal and professional responsibilities more smoothly.

The new regulations come just after Parliament’s approval on Fair Work Commission’s new law, “The right to Disconnect”, which allows workers to avoid work calls, emails and messages after working hours. The right to disconnect law is becoming increasingly popular in various nations because technology has blurred the lines between work and personal life.

With laptops and smartphones, employees are accessible at any time of the day. This forces employees to be available during non-working hours as well. In case an employee receives a call or message after working hours, he/she is expected to reply promptly. Now the right to disconnect makes it illegal for the employees to contact their employees after working hours, attracting financial penalities.

However, the law comes with its own critics, which argue that while the recently introduced Fair Work Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022 includes a provision for the right to disconnect, it offers very limited scope and enforcement mechanisms.

Today, an employee can refuse unreasonable contact outside working hours, but what constitutes ‘unreasonable’ is subject to interpretation.

The Global Perspective:

This initiative draws inspiration from countries like France, Portugal and Spain, where similar initiatives aim to enhance flexibility and potentially reduce commuting burdens.

Employees in France also enjoy similar liberties, where similar laws maintain proper work-life balance of its workforce. The law, implemented in 2017, required companies with over 50 employees to implement measures respecting breaks and holidays. This law became a major inspiration for similar legislation in other European countries like Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

The Similar law was implemented by South Korea in 2019, drawing a line between professional and personal hours.

These laws are backed by research, which highlighted that companies with a right to disconnect policy have 83% of employees reporting high job satisfaction compared to 80% in companies without such a policy.

Another meta-analysis by Bloom at el complied research findings of 25 studies on work-from-home employees. The research concluded that working from home led to small but significant rise in employee’s productivity.

While research puts advantages of working-from-home at the forefront- offering reduced commute, more time with family and an increased control over their working environment, which leads to higher productivity.

However, this isn’t universally accepted. The case of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) from 2023 exemplifies this.

The debate over work from home rights:

The bank mandated employees return to the office for half their time last year prompting the Finance Sector Union to challenge the decision. They argued the policy lacked employee consultation, violated existing contracts, and unfairly impacted those with childcare or family responsibilities. Meanwhile, CBA's management expressed concerns about reduced collaboration and potential gender imbalances arising from WFH arrangements.

So, there is no win-win situation for the employees and the employers. On one hand, employers argue that controlling team collaboration, team behavior and mentoring becomes difficult with work from home, employees argue that their mental health, finances and productivity increases while working from home.

The Future of the Working Class:

The proposed work-from-home regulations and the recent ‘right to disconnect’ offer a glimpse of potential future of the working class. The right to disconnect empowers the employees to disconnect from their employer after working hours. This would lead to respectful and balanced work culture.

With the work-from-home trend, the traditional measure of productivity- physical presence in the office might also fade, giving birth to culture that emphasis on productivity rather than presenteeism. The shift towards a remote work environment will also necessitate adjustments in job design, performance evaluation, and changes in compensation structures.

Conclusion:

Australia's exploration of work-from-home regulations and the "right to disconnect" highlights the ongoing challenge of balancing employee well-being with employer goals. Employees want the flexibility and benefits of working from home, but employers worry about managing teams and collaboration from a distance. The key to success will be finding flexible solutions that work for both sides, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

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