May 25, 2016
The recent announcement from President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party that they plan to give French employees the “right to disconnect” by pushing through measures for an email ban out of hours has been the subject of great debate. Although many commentators have argued the need for employers to encourage people to ‘switch off’ when they aren’t in work, to date there have been no legal guidelines on this specific issue, despite several negative reports about modern technology blurring the boundaries between home and work, which some claim is creating a stress epidemic. In the UK, the Working Time Regulations specify that no worker should work more than 48 hours per week. However, 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, even 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.
This is something that Baptiste Broughton, Partner, LBMG Worklabs, championed in his article, ‘How France is living out a unique workplace revolution’ in April’s issue of Work&Place. Broughton is a strong supporter of remote working and recognises that remote working must be promoted within defined boundaries. He says that remote working is successful when different work environments – such as home or co-working spaces – are combined effectively with the office.
The working time regulations exist for a reason – rested employees are more productive. And managers should be leading by example and setting expectations about the use of mobiles and unplugging from emails during holidays as a matter of course. Rather than just restricting email communication, which is only part of the problem, leaders need to be encouraging employees to switch off altogether sometimes and leave the digital soup behind.
Employers should be encouraging their employees to focus on their well-being in other ways too and helping them keep physically and mentally fit. Simple and cost effective initiatives can make a big difference such as providing fruit in meetings, urging people to take regular breaks from their desks or giving them time to visit the gym.
Taking a break from work by switching off the mobile and going for a walk or taking some exercise can help employees reacquaint themselves with the real world, help them manage stress and truly recharge.
Companies who care about their employees’ well-being must ensure that they take the time to truly disconnect.
Adrian Lewis is Director of Activ Absence a cloud-based software solution for absence management, sickness administration and staff holiday planning. www.activabsence.co.uk