In recent days the media has had a field day reporting on alleged French legislation banning employees from checking work emails after 6pm – along with inevitable discussions about whether this is a) sensible b) feasible and c) the right way to go about ensuring work-life balance. It turns out to be something of a storm in a teacup as it transpires there was no legislation – just a labour agreement between unions and employers in the high tech and consulting fields.

It did, however, raise the question of what role an employer should adopt in ensuring employee work-life balance. The UK is about to extend the Right to Request Flexible Working so the question is a timely one.

Work-life balance is a simple phrase with complicated meanings. It’s personal and dynamic – changing over the course of an employee’s working life. And supporting work-life balance is not about limiting access to emails or allowing some employees to work flexibly – although both might be part of an organisation’s broader strategy.

It’s a strategy that starts with a publicly stated commitment to ensuring work-life balance for all employees; and with developing a culture where it’s safe to raise and openly discuss work-life balance challenges. 

It’s about creating a workplace where employees are treated as adults and given the flexibility to negotiate and manage their own working arrangements. It’s also about providing training and support to managers so they know how to support their staff and to manage flexible teams effectively.

So when it comes to managing emails, limiting access may please those who prefer to segment their work and non-work lives. But it’s likely to frustrate the Integrators who prefer to blend work and non-work time. Instead, why not develop broader email guidelines which include an organisation wide agreement on response times. If all employees know they have – for example – twenty four hours to respond they will be less likely to feel under pressure to answer “out of hours” emails. And those who prefer to work at midnight will know their colleagues are not feeling pressured to do the same.

In an increasingly complex world we need to become smarter at safeguarding individual work-life balance. To be successful it’s time to stop taking a piecemeal approach and adopt a coherent, grown-up strategy.