Reply to all: The right to disconnect digitally

France moves to re-balance demands of work emails landing after hours

 

More than a few of you, gentle readers, will have returned this week to work after the break dreading confronting the overflowing holiday email box.

Not so, however, if you work for Daimler, or a few other enlightened employers – since 2014 it has allowed employees automatically to delete all emails that arrive while they are on holiday. Volkswagen, meanwhile, mindful of its employees’ work/life balance, turns off its servers after working hours.

And, from this week, French employees in businesses with more than 50 workers, have also been legally liberated from digital tyranny, from the “always-on” culture that is turning work from one activity among life’s pursuits, into something we are defined by entirely, all-consumingly, 24/7.

The “El Khomri law” to reform working conditions – named for minister for labour Myriam El Khomri – came into force on January 1st. It includes a chapter, “The Adaptation of Work Rights to the Digital Era”, which establishes le droit de la déconnexion, or the “right to disconnect”. A right to be forgotten after working hours.

Article 25 warns that “Among them [the dangers of the digital age], 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.”

The new provision does not ban work-related emails, but does require that companies negotiate a new protocol to ensure that work does not spill into days off or after-work hours.

A recent study published by research group Eleas found that over a third of French workers use their devices every day to do work after hours. About 60 per cent of them favour regulation to clarify their rights in this context. And research by the UK Chartered Management Institute has found many employees unwittingly take up the equivalent of their entire annual statutory holiday time with the unpaid after-hours work they do.

This work culture is also blamed for lifestyle issues like burnouts and sleeplessness along with relationship problems. All of which ultimately also hits the bottom line.

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