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France bans the weekend work email in work-life balance win

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Work emails are now illegal after business hours in France.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The French government pushed through the El Khomri law, a series of reforms meant to change workplace conditions in France. The new labor law would allow businesses to negotiate their own employment conditions with new hires, giving them the freedom to cut jobs during hard times and to lengthen working hours in the typically 35-hour workweek, which became French law in 2000.

Hidden within this new law in a chapter titled “The Adaptation of Work Rights to the Digital Era” is Article 25 — the “right to disconnect amendment.”   

The amendment is in place to minimize the negative effects of being constantly “plugged in.”

“The development of information and communication technologies, if badly managed or regulated, can have an impact on the health of workers,” Article 25 states. “Among them, the burden of work and the informational overburden, the blurring of the borders between private life and professional life, are risks associated with the usage of digital technology.”

Under this new bill, companies are urged to negotiate formal policies to limit the amount of work done outside the office that could affect the private lives of employees, specifically digital technology-related work.

Many people agree that the struggle to master the work-life balance is, in part, due to the digital revolution. Thanks to technological advancements, working from home and off the clock is easier than ever. However, constantly being “plugged in” has proven to have serious consequences, including physical, psychological and emotional distress. These consequences can lead to fatigue, frustration and restlessness, which could potentially cause even more problems.

While this bill might seem like a good thing for employees, the amendment has potential to be beneficial to managers as well.

Employers rely on employees to be creative and do their best work while on the job. A workplace that recognizes the need to “unplug” and prioritizes the well-being of its employees promotes better work.

Not everyone is in favor of the new law, though.

Massive protests broke out in France against the possible labor reforms. Protesters think these labor reforms will diminish workers’ rights, weaken unions and eliminate job security.

Many argue that the emphasis on “unplugging” acts as a smokescreen for the more substantial, troubling changes.

And there are others who think the whole concept of unplugging is confused, distracting people from a more important reality.

Jon Whittle, a researcher at Digital Brain Switch, a UK project looking at the impacts of digital technology on work-life balance, told The Washington Post that some employees may feel even more overwhelmed at the thought of returning to an inbox full of emails on Mondays.

“I think the topic of work-related well-being is much larger than simply stopping email after-hours,” he told the Post. “Email is just a medium used to communicate. The real problem is the culture of having to constantly do more and constantly do better than competitors.”

Ultimately, the right to disconnect is not specific to the French. Employees around the world are struggling with how to balance personal and work lives; France is just doing something about it.

While being able to disconnect from work after hours and on weekends sounds appealing, there is no way to monitor how many people will actually follow this law. Currently, there are no penalties for violators of the law and companies are expected to voluntarily adhere to it.

Despite the bill's controversy, the after-work email ban has been largely popular among President François Hollande's Socialist Party. The bill will move to the Senate next to be reviewed before going back to the National Assembly for final passage.