The French government has passed legislation that aims to the promote work-life balance of employees by securing them the right to not check their emails out of work. Entering into force on 1st January 2017, the ‘droit à la déconnexion’ (the right to disconnect) aims to tackle the ‘compulsive checking of emails outside of work’ and deal with increasingly widespread unpaid overtime. The new employment law obligates firms with over 50 workers to work with their staff to agree on clear outlines for when it’s acceptable to be offline outside the workplace and set up clear boundaries for smartphone use.
With work becoming increasing flexible, the French government aims to change shifting attitudes to work that increasingly expects employees being permanently ‘switched on’ and available. Certain firms have already recognised the need to limit the intrusion of work on personal lives: Volkswagen and Daimler in Germany, as well as Avera and Axa in France, have already taken measures such as cutting email connections during the evening.
While smartphones and other digital devices have clearly led to greater autonomy and flexibility in the workplace, their potential dark side is increasingly acknowledged: experts have linked excessive use of digital devices with burnout, poor sleep and relationship problems. This is a widespread problem: a study conducted by Lee Hecht Harrison Penna found that 36% of British workers checked their emails during the Christmas Holidays.
There remain obstacles to the successful implementation of these efforts, however. The legislation does not provide sanctions for employers that fail to define hours for smartphone use, rending it potentially toothless in practice. Another issue is the need to provide adequate flexibility for workers while simultaneously guaranteeing protection – should employees be able to check their emails during their commute, for example? Despite these challenges, the new legislation marks the start of a positive conversation about ways to address digital burnout, employer expectations and work-life balance.