Are France’s New “Right to Disconnect” Regulations Based on a Big “Disconnect” as well?

mcThe country of France has just enacted labor reform legislation that prohibits the use of work e-mails after-hours.

That is correct: For companies with 50+ employees operating in France, the entities must now define a set of hours when employees are not allowed to send any e-mails.

The legislation, which is part of an omnibus law titled “The Adaptation of Work Rights to the Digital Era,” also stipulates that employees are barred from interacting with work e-mail communications on holidays and on weekends.

To me, this seems like an issue worthy of consideration that’s been taken to an extreme – using a heavy-handed blunt force object when perhaps a scalpel is what’s really required.

Let’s first acknowledge that the French legislation is borne out of real concerns. Few in the business world would argue that the pervasiveness of work-related e-mails has a big downside as it’s crept steadily into every aspect of life.

Stress, fatigue, burnout.  Call it what you will — there’s little doubt that for many people, life in the 24/7 business lane has become distinctly unappealing.

The American Psychological Association cites a litany of problems that go beyond just stress and fatigue, too. It counts high blood pressure, depression, and even elevated cholesterol levels as among the collateral damage of the “always on” business culture.

People’s online behaviors aren’t helping matters, either. Consumer research routinely shows that ~80% of smartphone users check their devices within 15 minutes of waking up.  A similar percentage keep their devices with them at least 22 hours a day or longer.

Clearly, we’re doing it to ourselves as much as any dictates coming from “The Man.”

But like so much else in the realm of social engineering, these new French regulations seem set to result in all sort of unintended consequences.

What about global companies that engage with personnel across a myriad of time zones?  Are those organizations supposed to shut down mission-critical functions when France is “off limits” – jeopardizing the timely transaction of their business activities?

More likely, it will be their French business operations that shut down, rather than the rest of the world sucking it up and catering to the French regulations.

As one MediaPost reader commented after reading about the new law:

“Maybe the Dumbest. Law. Ever. Yet.

If you’re in France working, but your customer is in the U.S., how in the world are you supposed to communicate?  Stay up late and have a phone call with them instead?  Talk about turning people into criminals for no reason.”

Which bring up another point. From Prohibition then to zoning provisions today, “dumb” laws just encourage people to break them.

I can’t see this legislation being a long-term success – but you might disagree. Please share your perspectives with other readers here.

3 thoughts on “Are France’s New “Right to Disconnect” Regulations Based on a Big “Disconnect” as well?

  1. The French are so good at what they do.

    Lest we forget, the French Culture Ministry banned the use of the term “e-mail” by government ministries, documents, publications and Web sites back in 2003, to stem the rising tide of English in the French lexicon. In its place, it mandated “courriel” — shorthand for “courier electronique” (electronic mail) — a term already used at the time by Québécoise in Canada.

    Regarding France’s latest labor reform legislation, BuzzFeed reports that the new law does not specifically ban the sending and receiving of e-mail after working hours. Instead, “employers and employees will have to negotiate and decide how to limit digital communications during off hours,” and quotes the law itself (in English — the original is of course in French) as follows: “[The annual negotiation on … the quality of life at the workplace is about:] ‘The modalities of the right of the employee to disconnect and the implementation by the company of control mechanisms for the use of digital tools, for the purpose of guaranteeing the respect of rest periods and vacations as well as personal and family life. In case of a lack of agreement, the employer defines these modalities and communicates them to the employees by any means. In companies of at least 50 employees, these modalities are subject to a charter developed following the advice of the works council or, lacking one, of the staff representatives, which in particular provides for the implementation of training and awareness actions for the employees and the middle and senior managers for the reasonable use of digital tools.’ In smaller companies where there isn’t a works council, the boss will define the rules.” (See https://www.buzzfeed.com/julesdarmanin/chill-people-france-did-not-ban-work-emails-after-hours, dated May 28th 2016, which has a link to the legislation itself.)

    In other words, the law requires all companies to set rules and implement control mechanisms, of their choosing, that guarantee “respect of rest periods and vacations as well as personal and family life.” In larger companies (50 ore more employees), these rules and control mechanisms must be codified in a formal charter between the company and its works council (i.e. labor union) or staff representatives.

    Whilst legislation like this would be unthinkable in the U.S. or Asia, on closer inspection it isn’t quite as “dumb” as it appears at first glance. Its basic requirement is to force companies and their employees to agree on the work-life balance that is most appropriate under the circumstances, and also consent to the controls (such as hours of the day when company e-mail servers are accessible) to be implemented to actually achieve such balance.

    Like I said, the French are so good at what they do.

    • Nicely said. I like this legislation. It is consistent with how the French maintain and preserve a culture of true living!

  2. This is a country which can come up with 750 pages of regulations for Angora rabbit-pluckers! So it’s no surprise.

    The French have about 72% of our living standard but work only 600 hours for our 1,000. In that sense they are more, not less, efficient than we.

    We are suffering from two things: after the Second World War, our workers demanded pay increases and overtime, because they were to be had — and ignored working conditions. The French did the reverse. Their grocery clerks get to sit down. Ever wonder why we can’t? Because it never occurred to us to ask.

    The major issue, though, is that the recession of 1987 coincided with the improvement in cellphones and made it possible for employers to insist on longer hours, as they let the less efficient go.

    I worked for years in New York. Until 1987 it was a 9-to-5, 35-hour week. Now they own you …

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