Why we got obsessed with France's fake email ban.
We need better boundaries between work and play.
You probably saw a bunch of these headlines cropping up recently: “France bans work e-mail after 6 p.m.”
Even if you didn’t buy that, more grounded stories were promising something that still sounded pretty great.
Allegedly, French President Francois Hollande’s administration had introduced new labor legislation that would give workers the “right to disconnect” after office hours.
According to the reports, companies with more than 50 employees would be legally required to draft “policies of conduct” that stipulate when work email could be sent or answered after normal business hours (which, for most people, is nights, weekends, and vacations).
To put it simply, after a French employee finished a full day at the office, their employers couldn’t require them to read or respond to any work emails until they got back to their desks the next day.
Can you imagine the freedom!?
The story went viral for months, but it turns out it wasn’t 100% correct.
Apparently, the law only applies to employees who work hourly, and it doesn’t even kick in until after they’ve worked a 13-hour shift. That’s a far cry from “banning work emails after 6 p.m.”
The dream of a government really tackling work-life balance slowly died, and The Economist even issued this eulogy on April 14.
There’s a bigger question, though: Why did this French “right to disconnect” policy strike such a nerve with Americans?
Benoit Hamon’s quote for the BBC explains it well:
"All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant. 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 colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”
Sound like you or anyone you know?
Right now, Americans are working more hours than ever before.
A 2014 Gallup poll found that white-collar workers employed full-time in the U.S. were working an average of 47 hours per week, dwarfing the office time of their peers in every other industrialized nation, including Japan!
Another poll that same year found that a third of these workers frequently checked their email after hours, too, so their long workdays didn’t end even after leaving their cubicles.
Meanwhile, employees in France enjoy a 35-hour week with sweet, sweet overtime pay guaranteed if they work more than that (although exceptions to this rule were just legalized).
With smartphones and email, we can now be productive even after we leave the office.
But this revolutionary level of freedom is also eroding protective boundaries ... boundaries we didn’t even know we needed.
Jennifer M. Grygiel, assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University, studies the impact that email has on American work culture.
She says: “The trend toward mobile means that communications are tied to people regardless of their location. The workforce is now always on because of the connectivity of devices and people. Without guidance from the government, or employers, people could technically work around the clock. Humans are giving away more and more of their time for free because of technology.”
And tech entrepreneurs like Alex Moore, the founder of Boomerang, are finding out just how badly people want to take their schedules and personal time back from email.
He explains, "We've had dozens of customers write in to let us know that they signed up for Boomerang to try to implement [their own 'right to disconnect' policies].”
Plus, it turns out that the efficiency and convenience of email might actually be slowing down our productivity.
Even with all that extra time we’re spending working (and burning out), we’re not getting very much done.
According to Diane Passage, a life coach based in New York City and fan of the French measure, “When a work-day has flexible parameters, there is a lack of urgency to get tasks completed by a reasonable hour. [However,] there is improved productivity when deadlines are in place, and there is a sense of accomplishment when deadlines are met.”
Americans clearly yearn for the “right to disconnect,” or at least some good boundaries between work and play.
But for now, it may be up to each of us to work on attaining it in lieu of government intervention.
So channel that joie de vivre and remember that your time outside of work should be yours and yours alone.
Vive la révolution!