Should workers have the right to disconnect?
Under a new law that went into effect on Jan. 1, French workers have a “right to disconnect” with their employers outside of typical working hours.
French companies with more than 50 employees are now obligated to set up guidelines stipulating times when employees are not required to read or answer work-related emails or texts outside of the office. Companies are expected to comply voluntarily.
According to The Guardian, the law addresses “compulsive out-of-hours e-mail checking” and is designed to reduce stress and burnout.
“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work,” Benoit Hamon, Socialist member of Parliament and former French education minister, told the BBC in May, when the legislation was introduced. “They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash, like a dog.”
According to French research group Eleas, more than a third of French workers use their electronic devices for work outside of their work hours every day. Sixty percent were in favor of regulating such after-hours communications.
French newspaper Libération said the law was needed because “employees are often judged on their commitment to their companies and their availability.”
Some studies have shown that limiting communications — such as to three post-work emails a day — reduces stress compared to unlimited communications, but others show that any expectation to answer after-hours work messages increases stress levels. A complicating factor is that Millennials, having grown up digitally, are used to blurring work their and personal lives.
According to an article in the Raconteur, a supplement to the U.K.’s The Times, some ways companies are helping their employees maintain a healthy work-life balance in an “always on” culture include banning internal emails in the evening or weekends, shutting down company email servers after hours, and automatically deleting emails when employees are on vacation.
Critics charge that strictly curtailing such communications would hinder those working flexible hours or those that find balance by planning or catching up on their job during off-work hours.
- French workers win legal right to avoid checking work email out-of-hours – The Guardian
- French employees can legally ignore work emails outside of office hours – The Washington Post
- French Law Giving Workers ‘The Right To Disconnect’ Goes Into Effect – NPR
- The plan to ban work emails out of hours – BBC
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retail employees (whether store- or office-based) be expected to be “always on” as part of their employment? What pros and cons do you see from round-the-clock connectivity? Would you support limits to after-hour work communications for workers in the retail industry?