In a bid to give employees better work life balance after hours, France is set to pass a new law that would give people the “right to disconnect” from emails outside the office.
The law also places responsibility on employers to ensure that workers come under no pressure to look at work-related emails or documents on their devices while off duty. Workplaces with more than 50 employees will need to create a charter that outlines hours during the evening and weekends when people are not obliged to send or answer work-related communications.
In a statement, one French MP says that studies consistently show work-related stress is on the rise, and it’s a constant pressure. “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work … They remain attached by an electronic leash.”
Critics of the law are concerned that this policy disadvantages companies that do business internationally, but President Francois Holland defended the law, saying they are taking a look at the serious problem of permanent connection.
Nikki Fogden-Moore, a Queensland-based corporate wellness expert, says it’s reached a point where everyone is constantly connected by some kind of device at all hours.
“From the moment we wake up to when we go to sleep, we are checking our inboxes and glued to screens,” she says. “We have to set boundaries in some ways that encourage people to switch off and work only within contracted hours.”
Fogden-Moore says that to accomplish better work life balance, people need to rethink their approach to the role of email in the workplace. There’s a balance between relying on digital communication and actually using it as an effective resource.
“Email is not the place to have entire conversations or those one-line back and forth exchanges,” Fogden-Moore says. “Rather, it’s a tool that’s best used to confirm information, rather than conduct business.”
In addition to the pressures on people to constantly be reachable, being permanently attached by a digital chain means people no longer interact with each other in real time, says Fogden-Moore. Other side effects she lists are reduced productivity and disengagement from colleagues.
“It also sets an unhealthy precedent that people will be available at any time,” she says. “When everything is tied to digital communication, it emphasises quantity performance over quality performance. It’s easy to look like you’re busy and accomplishing things when you’re planted behind a screen.
“This is a great opportunity for workplaces to add layers of meaning to how people communicate,” she adds. “We need to get people off auto-pilot and back on mission.”