When Angela Rayner was handed a new brief in 2021 as Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work it looked to many like a faddish attempt to placate her after a failed attempt to demote her in a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. But two years on, amid on-going speculation about what careers will look like post-pandemic, her ideas could well form an intriguing element in Labour’s offer to the electorate in 2024.
Her latest proposal was unveiled last week, in the form of a ‘right to switch off’. This was borrowed from a French law passed in 2017 which tries to limit the ability of managers to contact staff outside their contracted hours. The aim is to re-establish boundaries between work and home life, improving the morale of workers and reducing the risk of burnout. Ms Rayner told the Financial Times that “constant emails and calls outside of work should not be the norm and is harming work-life balance for many”.
This is an obviously attractive idea for any of us who find ourselves responding to emails at 10 o’clock at night, or when we wake up at 6.30am. It will apparently form part of a ‘new deal for working people’ in the next Labour manifesto, tackling zero hours contracts and firing and rehiring, and other things that make life miserable at work.
This feels like an area to watch. If Labour bases their election messaging around asking people if they feel better or worse after 14 years of the Tories, being able to point to concrete proposals to improve the workplace could be genuinely potent. And it would provide a strong platform for Ms Rayner, arguably one of Labour’s most effective, authentic and occasionally erratic communicators.
And I am personally hoping that the right to switch off will extend to breaking the habit developed during the pandemic of putting regular meetings in the diary before the start of the working day. An 8am video call was fine when everyone was dialling in from home and saving on commuting time, but not now. Sometimes things happen and an out-of hours call is required (and as a consultant I am of course always available for clients), but for regular employees routine catch ups outside contracted hours amount to an annexation of their personal time. If Angela Rayner clamps down on this she will definitely have my vote.