Employers' federations and unions in France have recently
signed a labour agreement which will require employers to make sure
it is possible for staff to "disconnect" outside of working
hours. While the deal was signed by unions representing 1 million employees, it
will affect 250,000 workers directly in the technology and consultancy sectors.
The initial (somewhat sensationalised) reaction of the British press was that
this was further evidence of a ‘work-shy’ attitude at a time when France is
still recovering from recession. In actual fact, the reports were incorrect when they suggested
that French workers would be forbidden from checking their emails before 9am
and after 6pm. The labour agreement in fact only covered ‘autonomous
employees’, whose contracts are based on days worked and not hours worked
(meaning the famed 35 hour week does not actually apply to these workers in any
event), and made no reference to 9am or 6pm whatsoever.
The deal actually obliges the employers to make it
possible for this particular type of staff to "disconnect" from work
calls and emails after working hours, though there is no legal requirement on
the staff themselves to comply. The deal simply means that the affected
staff should not come under any pressure to log on, after their working day has
finished. This is to ensure the entitlement to 11 hours away from work is
achieved, as mandated in French employment regulations.
This all came about because a French court recently ruled
that tech workers’ rights to health and rest weren’t sufficiently protected by
existing law. The cause of the problem was thought to be, of course, the
all-pervasive, inescapable and ubiquitous smartphone. The smartphone has
no doubt revolutionized the way people work all around the globe. Yes, it
means that no working time is wasted whilst staff travel to and from meetings
for example, but the expectation of being ‘available’ at all hours,
sending emails at midnight and again first thing in the morning and even whilst
on holiday means, for some, there really is no escape from the office.
It has been recognised by many employers that a better
work/life balance can boost morale and productivity in the workplace –
perhaps the French are onto something after all?