Employers are always looking for ways to improve work-life balance for their employees. The objective, of course, is to reduce employee burnout and turnover, while increasing employee satisfaction, productivity and creativity. Some companies have gone the nontraditional route, such as Daimler’s “Mail on Holiday program” which gives employees the option of automatically deleting all incoming emails while on vacation or The Virgin Group’s “Unlimited Vacation” policy. These and other “lifestyle” benefits are becoming popular recruiting tools to attract candidates from competitors and also to retain qualified employees.
A new French law, which took effect January 1, has taken it one step further by barring work email after hours! French employees now have the “right to disconnect” from email, smartphones and other electronic devices once their working day has ended. The law requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. If management and staff cannot agree on new rules, the company must publish a charter to define and regulate when employees should be able to disconnect. Some French companies have already put guidelines in place to prohibit employees from using work devices after hours. A few have even gone as far as completely shutting down their email systems overnight.
Supporters of the email restrictions say the prohibition could be beneficial to both workers and businesses alike. Reduced stress from overworking can lead to more efficient and effective (and less irritable and absent) employees and reduced healthcare costs for employers.
On the other hand, critics argue that the legislation may hurt corporate productivity since society expects instant communications and exceptional customer service. There is also an argument that such a restriction actually impedes worker flexibility as if forces all employees to conform to a strict daytime work schedule. Others add that companies could get left behind by competitors in other countries where such restrictions do not exist.
While it is highly unlikely that such measures would pass in the United States, it will be interesting to see the long term effects of this restriction and whether any private employers will follow suit.