Concern has been building for a while in France as recent studies found that approximately 3.2 million French workers are at risk of “burning out,” defined as a combination of physical exhaustion and emotional anxiety. Also a study published by French research group Eleas showed that more than a third of French workers used their devices to do work out-of-hours every day. About 60 percent of workers were in favor of regulation to clarify their rights.
Although France is known for its “official” 35-hour workweek, for many companies it’s in name only. Many French employees continue working remotely long after they leave for the day. In fact, now that France has a record-high unemployment rate of nearly 11 percent, the 35-hour work week law has been called into question.
The “right to disconnect” law was part of a larger set of labour laws introduced in France last spring. The set was designed to combat some of the unintended negative consequences of the 35-hour workweek. One proposal, would give companies the right to renegotiate longer hours and to pay less in overtime to employees who stay longer. Another proposal would make it easier for firms to hire and fire employees. The “right to disconnect” legislation was the only one of the proposed laws that did not generate widespread protests and strikes in France.
France is actually not the first nation to enact such a law. In 2014, Germany’s labour ministry passed legislation banning managers from calling or emailing their staff outside of work hours except in an emergency. Nevertheless the law prompted several German companies to reduce the burden of overwork. Car manufacturer Volkswagen blocked all emails to employees’ Blackberries after-hours, while competitor Daimler said it would delete emails received by employees while they are on holiday.
Laws such as the one in France will certainly encourage better dialogue about effective work/life balance. If companies can no longer dump as much work as possible on their employees regardless of working hours, they will hopefully make a concerted effort to define their expectations, what’s truly important, and how employees can contribute in the manner that’s in the best interest of their own health and the health of the company. However, will this cause France to lose ground in the competitive global marketplace because its employees are working less than those in nations without such a law? Many multinational companies already take a dim view of French business regulations.
Although, the “right to disconnect” law is unlikely to be introduced for UK workers, employers should not ignore the issues that can arise from excessive use of digital devices and establish boundaries that protect employees, encouraging all employees to adopt a healthy lifestyle and promote work/life balance.
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