This week it was announced that President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party is planning to push through measures to ban email out of hours and ensure that French employees have a “right to disconnect”.
This move has been welcomed by many, as it follows several negative reports about modern technology blurring the boundaries between home and work, which some claim is creating a stress epidemic.
Whilst many HR commentators have argued the need to encourage people to ‘switch off’ when they aren’t in work, to date there have been no legal guidelines on this specific issue. Whilst the Working Time Regulations specify that no UK worker should work more than 48 hours per week, there has been no case law as to whether or not checking work emails outside working hours would fall within this limit, and many UK staff check and respond to work emails outside work hours including on holidays.
France already has some of the world’s strictest employment laws, with workers restricted to a 35 hour working week and six weeks paid annual leave, and a ban on shift work between 9pm and 6am unless the work plays an important role in the economy or is socially useful – in fact Apple were recently fined for making workers work night shifts.
The proposed law will ensure that companies with more than 50 staff will have to draw up a charter of good conduct. This charter should specify clearly the hours when their staff should not send or respond to emails.
Technology certainly blurs the lines between work and home and is something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it enhances our lives by enabling successful flexible working which can improve a work and home life balance, but equally there are many downsides for employees of being ‘ever-connected’ – they feel under constant pressure to respond immediately which can cause them to feel stressed.
One helpful solution is for companies to put systems in place that make other staff and customers aware when someone is ‘off work’ which can reduce work-related interruptions and define the boundaries more clearly.
For instance, we don’t expect employees to answer calls if they are on lunch. The working time regulations exist for a reason – rested employees are more productive.
Rather than just restricting our email communication, which is only part of the problem, our leaders need to be encouraging employees to switch off altogether sometimes and leave the digital soup behind. Setting expectations about the use of mobiles and unplugging from emails during holidays is something managers should be doing as a matter of course and leading by example.
Companies also need to look at what measures they have in place to encourage wellness at work and manage stress. What are they doing to ensure their employees are physically and mentally fit?
Simple initiatives such as having fruit in meetings or encouraging people to take regular breaks from their desk and allowing them the time to visit the gym can contribute to people’s good health, support their well-being and enable them to truly disconnect.
To truly disconnect and recharge, our workers need to take a walk, exercise, visit a museum and reacquaint themselves with the real world regularly and these messages need to come from the top.