The line between work and home life has blurred considerably for many in the last few months as Covid-19 forced them into makeshift offices in kitchens, bedrooms and sheds.

That has renewed the debate around what right workers have to disconnect when off the clock.

The Programme for Government has pledged proposals on the topic this year, but ahead of that AIB has agreed what is claimed to be the first Right to Disconnect policy with the Financial Services Union.

"It covers areas like emails, like meetings, like telephone calls and all the other devices like Zoom and Teams and so forth that are now part of our daily working lives," said John O’Connell, general secretary of the FSU.

"They need to be managed in the same way as everything previously in our working lives. What these principles set out is how we manage those," Mr O'Connell stated.

As part of that the policy sets guidelines on when people should arrange the likes of online meetings to avoid interfering with workers’ home-time - and encourages the people organising them to only include those who need to be involved.

It also emphasises workers’ right to make themselves unavailable during breaks, when they are finished work for the day or when they have a day off.

That includes setting and respecting 'out of office’ notifications, and normalising the practice of delaying a reply to a late-night email until the following day’s work begins.

"I have to commend AIB for moving in advance of [Government proposals]," said Mr O’Connell, who described the policy as a "fair, balanced" one that recognised business reality while also recognising worker’s personal requirements.

"People are trying to balance their lives against this 'always-on' culture and the intensification of work, where the various modes of communication that come at us now and everybody expects instantaneous responses," he said.

However a high-level policy is one thing - but it may be another challenge entirely to overcome the ‘soft-power’ of someone’s boss - implicitly or otherwise - expecting a prompt response.

"What this is trying to do is create a culture," Mr O’Connell said. "The senior leadership have made it fairly clear their expectation in terms of the rollout of these principles.

"Leadership is key in changing culture."

Mr O’Connell said AIB’s HR director Geraldine Casey and its CEO Colin Hunt have made it clear that they don’t expect an always-on culture in AIB, and they expected people would adhere to the new principles.

He said staff were also being encouraged to speak up when they felt pressured to work beyond their normal hours, but they did not foresee that being a major issue.

"Our anticipation is the leadership being shown by AIB will translate into good compliance and we’ll deal with pockets of non-compliance if they arise," he said.