Broaching the topic of religion in the workplace can mean wading into an emotional and legal minefield, which is why most US companies prefer not to talk about it. Yet as the religious diversity of the workforce increases and religious discrimination complaints are on the rise, faith is becoming an issue some employers can’t afford to ignore. To that end, the French oil company Total has issued an extensive guide to religion in the workplace, Francesca Fontana reports at the Wall Street Journal. The guide covers both general knowledge, such as an explanation of the basic tenets of major world religions, as well as workplace-specific issues such as whether managers need to provide halal food at company meals:
At 92 pages, the English-language version of Total’s guide offers few firm rules but states that employees’ religious practices, such as prayer, should generally be respected and accommodated. Employees aren’t required to read the document, which is available to those who are “curious,” said a company spokeswoman. The company created the guide to aid managers and employees who “may have questions or doubts on this topic, working with people who might not eat, dress or pray the same,” said the spokeswoman.
It’s interesting and telling that Total created this guide to satisfy employees’ curiosity, rather than any legal concern. In doing so, it is demonstrating that religious pluralism and tolerance are among the values it wants to instill in its culture by encouraging and empowering employees to educate themselves about their colleagues’ religious beliefs and practices. Rather than imposing a long list of rules, Total invites employees to understand why these values matter at their company, which our research at CEB (now Gartner) suggests is often a better way of getting the message across.
France’s newly elected president Emmanuel Macron is proposing a new tech visa that would enable French tech companies to more easily hire talent from abroad, as well as to encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses there. The plan is clearly designed to convince startups that France is an easier place to hire from the globalized tech workforce than the US or UK, both of which have grown increasingly hostile toward immigration, John Detrixhe reports at Quartz:
The French process appears “significantly” simpler than in the US, which doesn’t have a dedicated visa for tech workers, according to Kristie De Pena, senior immigration council at the Niskanen Center, a think tank. … In the UK, meanwhile, it’s been a year since the vote to leave the EU, and future rules on the rights of EU immigrants after Britain quits the bloc are far from finalized. Nearly half of the UK’s highly skilled workers from elsewhere in the EU are considering leaving in the next five years, according to a survey by Deloitte. Still, the UK has a substantial head-start on other European hubs in the capital-raising game, a crucial consideration for startup founders.
In this regard, Macron’s scheme is similar to what Canada is doing in pitching itself as a friendlier destination for global talent. In contrast to the nativist trend in US and UK politics, leaders like Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are doubling down on globalization—and at least in Trudeau’s case, diversity—as engines of economic growth.
At the same time Macron is pushing tech visas, the world’s largest tech incubator opened this week in Paris. The 34,000 square-meter campus, called “Station F,” was built out of a converted railway depot and is designed to accommodate over 1,000 startups, its director Roxanne Varza tells João Medeiros at Wired:
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Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon is polling in fourth place in France’s upcoming presidential election, to be concluded in two rounds of voting in April and May. Hamon’s long-shot candidacy has enabled him to take unusually bold policy stances: He proposes shortening the workweek, legalizing marijuana, and enacting a universal basic income. At Motherboard, Roisin Kiberd takes note of another novel proposal he’s made, to tax the work done by robots as they replace human employees in certain jobs:
To better understand the context surrounding Hamon’s proposed tax on robots I spoke with Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, authors of Inventing the Future, a book which envisions a post-capitalist world without work. Srnicek applauded Hamon’s proposal: “We have massive inequality, with a handful of elites owning the rest of society, and we have a huge wave of automation about to radically change the labour market. Taxing the wealthy and using it to fund ideas like a basic income is essential for sharing the prosperity and freedom that new technologies could give us.”
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.
At precisely 4:34 p.m. Monday afternoon, women across France stopped working in a symbolic mass action to protest the country’s gender pay gap. The Guardian explains the timing:
Women’s rights campaigners at the feminist newsletter Les Glorieuses had urged female workers to down tools from that time. They suggested that doing so until the end of the year – in effect taking 38.2 days off – would highlight the global wage disparity that experts say will not disappear until 2186. “From 7 November at 16.34 [and seven seconds] women will be working ‘voluntarily’,” Les Glorieuses wrote, referencing research that women work for free, compared with men, for a certain time of the year.
The activists had not intended to spark demonstrations with their call to protest, which reached 2 million people through the social media service Thunderclap. However, the idea captured imaginations and sparked spontaneous street rallies. At Place de la République in central Paris, scores of women turned out, many with placards, to support the protest.
The French strike comes just two weeks after a similar protest in Iceland, when on October 24, women around the country walked out at 2:38 p.m., when “[c]ompared to men’s earnings, women work without pay after that hour every day,” Vala Hafstad noted at the Iceland Review:
Under pressure from the IMF to relax its famously employee-protective labor laws in order to promote economic growth, France recently forced a suite of reforms through the lower house of parliament. Known as the El Khomri law after Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri, the bill relaxes rules regarding the country’s 35-hour workweek, limits the power of unions and makes it easier for businesses to fire employees during periods of economic trouble. Despite the government’s insistence that the bill is good for workers and small businesses, it is deeply unpopular among French workers and has sparked widespread protests.
On the other hand, the law does include one provision that employees ought to like. According to the BBC: “Companies of more than 50 people will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours—normally in the evening and at the weekend—when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails.” That’s not quite the same thing as banning after-hours and weekend email, as has been widely reported—there is no penalty for violating the provision—but the “right to disconnect” established in the provision puts work-life balance front and center in a way that reflects a characteristically French view that life comes first.
At the New Yorker, Lauren Collins discusses le droit de la déconnexion in more depth: