Forward-thinking employers everywhere are increasingly concerned about protecting their employees’ work-life balance and avoiding an “always on” culture of constant connection, in order to prevent burnout, attrition, and problems to motivation and productivity—but only in France is the issue of being addressed head-on with legislation. Last May, the French government put forward a suite of reforms to its famously strict labor regulations, most of which were designed to relax rules around the work hours and employers’ ability to hire and fire, but which also established a “right to disconnect” that would force organizations of more than 50 people to agree with their employees on hours when they are not required to perform online work tasks like checking email.
The law went into effect in the new year, Agence France-Presse reports, so French companies must now either negotiate off-hours protocols with their employees or publish a charter making explicit what is expected of them outside normal working hours:
French newspaper Libération praised the move in an editorial on Friday, saying the law was needed because “employees are often judged on their commitment to their companies and their availability”. Some large groups such as Volkswagen and Daimler in Germany or nuclear power company Areva and insurer Axa in France have already taken steps to limit out-of-hours messaging to reduce burnout among workers. Some measures include cutting email connections in the evening and weekends or even destroying emails automatically that are sent to employees while they are on holiday.
A study published by French research group Eleas in October showed that more than a third of French workers used their devices to do work out-of-hours every day. About 60% of workers were in favour of regulation to clarify their rights.
Consultants, the New York Times adds, are recommending several approaches to compliance with this new regulation, including discouraging the use of “reply all” on email threads and designating specific times (such as from 9:00 pm to 7:00 am) during which employees are not expected to respond to work communications. We don’t know yet what consequences the French law will have, but it will be an experiment worth watching to see how employers and employees respond and what arrangements they find work best.