As of January 1st, workers in France have the “right to disconnect”. This means they can ignore after hours emails According to the BBC, “companies with more than 50 workers will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails”. The logic behind the law is to cut back on burn-out and fatigue, ultimately leading to improved production overall.
The real key component in the new law is that it applies to companies with more than 50 employees. If you have ever worked for a small company you will understand how such a law would be impossible to adhere to and keep the company afloat. Nowhere is the concept of the customer always being right more true than in small companies.
I worked for many years in a small Investor Relations company; most of our clients were also small companies. If a client was set to go on the road with one of our partners to promote their company, and decided at the last-minute (i.e. Sunday evening) that they wanted to make a change to the presentation, it was all hands to the pump to get that change done. Annoying? Yes, very. But also necessary. An unhappy client may soon become a former client which would affect the company and employees directly. Small companies do not have the luxury of a large stable of clients that would enable them to tell a pushy one to get stuffed – I don’t work on weekends – and not fear losing that contract.
So in those days when my state-of-the-art Blackberry rang on a Sunday afternoon, or an email arrived requesting my assistance in altering a PowerPoint presentation, or changing travel reservations, it was incumbent on me to act. I understood that my employment was dependent upon the company’s success; had the company gone belly up, I would have been out of work. It was a simple concept.
While I applaud the French government for taking into consideration the encroachment of the workday into personal lives, I fear that for a large number of workers (in Canada there are some 1.1 million companies with fewer than 50 employees) the law will have no effect on their lives. The reality is that we, like it or not, live in a 24/7 world, one of our own creation. Technology frees us to function from home, but it also acts like a ball and chain at times.