Managers grapple with how Portugal’s 9-5 ruling will impact their work
With largely mild winters and balmy hot summers, Portugal is an attractive place to call home.
Indeed, expats considered Portugal the fifth best country (out of 59 destinations) to live and work in 2021, according to a report from expat community InterNations. Now a new ruling bans bosses from contacting their employees outside their contracted working hours. But in attempting to achieve a work-life balance, will managers feel a strain on the business?
A Lisbon-based manager at a global cosmetics brand, who spoke to WorkLife under the condition of anonymity, acknowledged the potential impact. “Sometimes I have to contact direct collaborators outside working hours, but at specific moments of the year due to specific circumstances such as a big project. I will have to respect this new rule with a possible impact on the workflow and deadline accomplishments,” they said.
The new legislation, introduced by Portugal’s government in November 2021, means employers can now be fined if they text message, phone or email their employees outside of their contracted working hours. The “right to disconnect” rules are aimed at improving the country’s work-life balance as an increasing number of people work remotely, and home-work boundaries blur. The ruling will also hope to attract more remote workers, or digital nomads, to Portugal.
Roger James, partner at global employment law firm, Ogletree Deakins said: “For those who work for international companies, there may be a business need to work outside of traditional working hours in order to effectively carry out responsibilities or meet deadlines.” He added that the key point is that employees do not feel forced or under pressure to attend work matters or respond to work communications outside their normal working hours.
Jorge Francisco, chief client officer, at media agency Carat Portugal, said that he has had to occasionally contact employees outside working hours in the past when on tightly scheduled projects. “We managers should be concerned about organizing our deliveries in a way that allows us to discuss and organize work within the working hours. That doesn’t mean that we don’t do extra work on specific projects, it means that I don’t expect my team to reply to requests outside working hours,” Francisco said.
The ruling is not unlike legislation that already exists in Ireland and France. Ireland’s “Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect’” specifically references working across different time zones and asks employers to recognize that there may be situations that require out-of-hours working. James added that the code advises that clear guidance on expectations for responding to work-related communications out of hours should be provided to all employees.
Conversely, France’s Code du travail (Labor Code) does not expressly set out how the right to disconnect is to be implemented in workplaces. “Instead, it simply requires annual negotiations between employers and employees to determine arrangements that take into consideration employees’ needs and line of work,” said James. This allows for a certain amount of flexibility.
A less rigid arrangement would perhaps be welcomed in Portugal. The country’s new ruling specifies that “the employer has the duty to refrain from contacting the employee during the rest period, except in situations of force majeure.” But what constitutes “force majeure” — or unforeseeable circumstances — is also open to interpretation.
“It’s a bit surprising that there is a need to put in the law something that should be managed with good sense,” said Francisco. That said, he thinks it will only inspire better organization. “If anything changes it would be that managers and teams will realize that they need to be much more structured [about] preparing working streams in advance.”
But while the Lisbon-based manager at a global cosmetics brand believes the ruling might cause more stress for managers, “especially for companies that work with different affiliates or customers in different time zones,” she added that the mental health benefits which may arise from the new law are “worth the price of an extra few hours of work delay.”
Günther Voglpoel, CEO of e-payments company, Recharge.com, which has recently opened an office in Lisbon, said the business will positively embrace the change. He added that the ruling reflects one of the biggest reasons why staff want to relocate to Portugal — “the work-life balance is good for business, company morale and emotional wellbeing.
“Portugal has attracted many new commercial residents in recent years, from Google to [payments processor] Mollie. Companies are eager to tap into the local and fast-growing expat talent pool that work hard but maintain a healthy work-life balance too, which reduces burnout and productivity issues.”
Voglpoel added that Portugal offers a great quality of life that is hard to replicate elsewhere, “and people make time to enjoy themselves.” This is supported by the Working Abroad Index 2021, in which Portugal ranks third out of 59 countries for its high quality of life.
Perhaps managers needn’t worry about failing to meet deadlines under the new ruling. As Voglpoel said, an already strong work-life balance “leads to a motivated workforce that can get a lot done by 5 p.m.”