France gives employees out of hours “right to switch off” in world first

A new French labour law gives employees the “right to switch off” from email, smartphones and other electronic leashes to preserve off-hours and holiday time.

LA DEFENSE, FRANCE (JANUARY 5, 2017) (REUTERS) – A new French labour law came into force on Monday (January 1), protecting employees from the pressure to remain connected even when out of the office, the first time worldwide a government has sought to protect an employee’s work-life balance in such a way.

The law requires companies with 50 employees or more to negotiate a deal with unions and establish good practice concerning the right to log off after official hours and during holidays.

The new law received a warm welcome from people working at Paris’s business district of La Defense, where dozens of office workers cross the esplanade tethered to their smartphones.

“Today, people tend to be hyper-connected, all the time… It is also important a law aims to help those who need this right to log off,” said Caroline, head of business development at an agricultural firm.

“I think that, yes, it is necessary to make a distinction between professional and private lives — which is still not a very clear boundary in today’s society,” architect, Gregoire, explained.

According to communication expert and author, Caroline Sauvajol-Rialland, the time spent processing information accounts for 40 percent of people’s working time, which may have negative consequences.

“The feeling of not being able to follow the flow of information sent to us creates a feeling of frustration, stress, a feeling of incompetence, of inability to keep track. And all these feelings can result in a burn-out,” Sauvajol-Rialland said.

She quoted a study saying that office workers are receiving seven times more information now, compared to four years ago, and the onslaught of data will become 32 times more in 2020 — but the overload is not necessarily being addressed.

“Acknowledging that one can’t keep track in our world today is shooting oneself in the foot, in a professional career. So one will not acknowledge what is happening and what is difficult,” Sauvajol-Rialland said.

French postal group La Poste was one of the first to acknowledge the issue, establishing a “right to switch off” for its employees. The French firm recently established a rule stating employees can effectively ignore emails during their off-hours.

“The right to switch off consists in not answering messages one receives during off-hours and in avoiding sending any either. The only exception we defined is if there is a particularly significant emergency situation in a La Poste site, then one obviously needs to take charge of it at any hour but one can’t send a file folder, a document or specific data,” said Florence Wiener, La Poste’s head of social strategy and quality of life at work.

In official emails, one can now read below each person’s signature: “If you are receiving this email during your off-hours or during holidays, you don’t have to answer it immediately, except in case of emergency.”

A pop-up window is being developed, giving employees an option to delay or continue sending a message after office hours.

In implementing the rule, La Poste had to define what “off-hours” meant, setting it from 8pm to 7:30am the next day from Monday to Friday and all of the weekend.

According to financial officer, Didier Chabanne, the “switch-off” culture already existed at La Poste, saying he never had to deal with too much pressure from his managers.

“I know however colleagues who were under a much heavier pressure. The fact that it is now on paper, they have tools to say ‘no’, ‘now I can’t answer’, ‘now I need to go on holiday’ — knowing that everyone gains from this, because you can see it from a colleague’s point of view who can now say no, but if people say stop they can recover and be way more productive,” he said.