The French government is set to pass a new law that gives workers a “right to disconnect” from their jobs on the weekends. This means that employees are not obligated to respond to emails or messages when they’re out of the office, promoting a healthier work-life balance. France is working to preserve that balance in any ways they can: The country’s work week has already been reduced to 35 hours, primarily to get companies to hire more people.
France’s economy has been stagnant for several years. The 35-hour week was implemented in 2000 to help companies find more employees, as part of the nation’s movement to boost an economy without neglecting workers’ rights. A right-to-disconnect rule would help keep the 35-hour week in place: French unions believe that “digital technologies have created an ‘explosion of undeclared labor’ that is forcing employees to work” more hours than are required.
The disconnect law would help make the French labor market more flexible. It also aims to help keep employees from working on the weekends.
“Professionals who find the right balance between private and work life perform far better in their job than those who arrive shattered,” says Bruno Mettling, director general of French mobile company Orange.
Some French companies have already adapted a no-weekend-contact rule—some companies even go so far as to shut down their email services overnight and on the weekends. The government is hoping to expand that rule’s reach by making it law.
But Jean-Claude Delgenes, president of Technologia, a risk assessment and prevention firm, believes the country doesn’t keep to its 35-hour-week promises. “We have poor self-control when it comes to new technology. Work spills over into people’s private lives,” he says. “The difference between work and social life used to be clearly distinct.”
Delgenes also believes that if the right-to-disconnect law goes into effect, it will only work if employers are willing to ask less of their employees. He sees potential problems for added pressure and stress. “If we introduce a right to disconnect but not reduce the workload…managers will just ignore it or find a way to stay connected,” Delgenes said.
France’s labor minister, Myriam El Khomri, is due to present the law as well as other labor reforms to the rest of the government in the next several weeks.