PORTUGAL recently passed a set of laws that restrict employers’ ability to contact their employees outside of contracted work hours. Leaders at businesses with 10 employees or more could be fined for emailing, phoning or texting team members after work.

The restrictions have been put in place to protect workers’ ‘right to switch off’. With more employees working from home as a result of the pandemic, there are concerns that workers feel compelled to work beyond their paid hours.

Overworking, as we know, can have a detrimental impact on both mental and physical health, as well as obstructing a healthy work-life balance.

However, while there is no doubt that Portugal’s labour laws reflect legitimate concerns about worker wellbeing, I don’t believe that adopting the same approach would be the right move here.

Many prominent companies have transitioned to fully flexible working, with more set to follow suit in the future. Further, the UK government has proposed that all workers should have the right to request flexible working patterns from day one of their employment.

The increase in flexible working opportunities is viewed as a positive move amongst several demographics. Women, in particular, whose careers are still so often stilted by the pressures of childcare, stand to benefit from flexible working.

Bringing in a UK ban on contacting employees outside of working hours would result in the need to define those hours, which would invalidate the freedom of fully flexible working, both for the employee and the employer.

Consider a manager who schedules time to pick up his children from school or a boss who attends a morning yoga session to manage stress: should they be penalised for sending emails in the evening?

Flexible hours can give both employers and employees the freedom to do more of what they want, when they want. We're seeing more candidates seeking out only those roles that can guarantee a flexible schedule.

That's not to say that flexible working solves the problem of workers feeling pressured to overwork: it doesn't. Sadly, some companies still reward ‘presenteeism’. I don’t believe that a new law would deter this: it is already illegal for companies to expect workers to consistently work beyond their contracted hours.

Instead, UK companies must do more to educate workers about when they need to be contactable – and when they don't – as well as emphasising the importance of switching off.

Some introspection is also necessary. Leaders should ask themselves whether their company culture actively discourages overworking, and, if not, must take steps to address the problem.

Presently, it's a worker's market. With significant skills gaps and a worker shortage, companies are having to work harder than ever to retain valued employees.

Employees will simply opt to leave companies that can't cater to their requirements.

Portugal's new employment laws will certainly help to empower those workers whose bosses won't leave them in peace. But placing a restriction on contact hours in the UK could inadvertently place restrictions on flexible working while doing little to deter companies whose cultures reward overworking.

Michelle Lownie, CEO at Eden Scott. Eden Scott is a leading independent recruitment business. With branches in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, it provides companies with contract, temporary and executive employee recruitment support across the UK and internationally.