French email law requiring employees to disconnect after work goes into effect

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The new year brought a new French law into effect, allowing employees to ignore work emails after hours.

The law, dubbed the “right to disconnect,” was introduced in May 2016, and was enacted on Sunday. Companies of more than 50 employees now must set up hours when workers are not supposed to send or respond to emails, normally during evenings and weekends.

It follows France’s move to make all work weeks 35 hours, put in place in 2000 to encourage companies to hire more people. However, many industries are granted exemptions.

“On the one hand, change is hard, but on the other hand, for almost every other century, we didn’t do this,” said Mary LoVerde, a work-life balance expert. “We still made a lot of progress. I’m thrilled with this law because of all of the benefits that there will be for the employees and the businesses. We now know that burning people out has detriments that live on for both businesses and people.”

The law speaks to the challenges technology poses for workers, said JP Gownder, a vice president and principal analyst with Forrester. “Always-connected, anytime access has severely eroded work-life balance for many classes of workers,” Gownder said. “But the law itself might have unintended consequences, like larger companies locating jobs outside France, or making workers choose between the law and the quality of their work. It remains to be seen how it will play out.”

SEE: Does a 30-hour work week make sense for your business? Lessons from Amazon

Another question remains: How will this law impact IT professionals, who often work on-call after hours to address emergencies? LoVerde said companies will figure it out, and possibly have some employees work evenings and disconnect during the day.

A recent report from the London-based Future Work Centre called email a “double-edged sword” in terms of workplace productivity, in that it allows employees to communicate easily, but is also a source of stress and distraction. The researchers found that employees who leave their email on all day were much more likely to report feeling pressured, and that checking email early in the morning or late at night was associated with higher levels of pressure.

The negative impacts of poor work life-balance are well-documented: Overwork and the resulting stress can cause numerous health problems, including impaired sleep, depression, heaving drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease. These conditions not only hurt the employee, but also the company, in terms of turnover and rising health insurance costs.

In tech, particularly in the startup arena, there can be intense pressure to produce, Cali Williams Yost, a flexible workplace strategist and author, told TechRepublic last year. “If left unchecked, that can turn into a 24/7 reality,” she said. “But there is a growing recognition that perhaps that isn’t ultimately the best approach, and that you can still be productive without driving your people into the ground.”

What’s your opinion?

What do you think of the new French law? Do you think it could work for tech firms in other nations? Sound off in the comments.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. On January 1, a new law went into effect in France that requires companies with more than 50 employees to limit the hours workers spend answering emails after work.
  2. The law follows France’s 35 hour workweek law, which passed in 2000, and aims to improve workers’ work-life balance.
  3. It remains to be seen how the new law will impact worker productivity, especially in tech.

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