The digital revolution has meant that the lines between the office and our home lives are increasingly blurred. Now, in an attempt to save employees from “digital burnout”, the French government is about to vote through a bill giving workers the legal “right to disconnect” from work emails.
President Francois Hollande used special constitutional powers on Tuesday to push a labour bill through the French Parliament. Under the bill, companies with more than 50 employees must state the hours during which staff must not send or answer work emails – normally in the evening and at weekends.
“All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant,” Socialist MP Benoit Hamon told the BBC.
“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails – they colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”
Mr Hamon’s analogy might sound ever so slightly OTT to British ears, but we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of being constantly connected to work.
Last year, a UK study showed that employees who check their work email early in the morning or late at night feel more pressurised – and that high email pressure negatively impacts their home lives. Their home life then had a negative effect on their performance at work.
Another study, by Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow, showed that workers who were made to disconnect from work-related content on their smartphones and tablets felt happier at home – and were more satisfied, enthusiastic and efficient at work.
And a study of over 32,500 UK employees by Britain’s Healthiest Workplace found that high stress contributes to industries losing up to 27 days of productive time per employee each year, costing the UK an average £57bn a year.
But while there is widespread support for the idea behind the “right to disconnect” law in France, there is some debate about whether it will be enforceable. Currently, there is no penalty for violation written into the legislation, and companies are expected to comply with the law voluntarily.
With the exception of the “right to disconnect” law, the labour reforms pushed through on Tuesday have been wildly unpopular in France, with violent protests breaking out in Paris and Nantes. President Hollande has made it easier for French employers to hire and fire, prompting fears that workers’ rights will be compromised.