The France Disconnect

Maybe we should move there; the country has laws saying no email when off the clock

The time of completely disconnecting from work after leaving the office are long gone. These days we’re all connected 24/7.

Leave it to France to come up with an answer. The country is leading the charge in giving people the right to disconnect. France’s Labour Minister, Myriam El Khomri, is pushing to pass a variety of laws in favor of France’s working population, one of which is the right for workers to not answer any work calls, emails or texts when off the clock.

Technologia, a firm in France which works to lower risks to workers, found that managers working between the hours of 8 p.m. and midnight had risen from a third to over 50 percent in the last 10 years, no doubt due to the pressure of the constant work emails that need answering, no matter what the hour. 

“We have poor self-control when it comes to new technology. Work spills over into people’s private lives. The difference between work and social life used to be clearly distinct,” said Jean-Claude Delgenes to French news outlet, The Local.

The issue of technology melding work and leisure time is not at all exclusive to France, which has already dictated an official 35-hour work week. 

The U.S. in fact, is already considered by many to be the most overworked nation in the world. According to the ILO (International Labour Organization), “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” Americans also have fewer laws than most countries governing things like paid sick time, family leave and maximum hours in a work week.

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A recent report by ABC News showed America being overworked and overstressed compared to the rest of the world. It concluded: “Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too.”

With France looking to protect workers from the increased workload and stress of a constant digital connection to work (when they are already one of the countries with massive work restrictions), how much does technology really affect our work lives?

It’s hard to find any worker, let alone any person, today who doesn’t have some sort of constant connection to the online world. Another Pew Research Center study from 2015 found that more than 60 percent of American adults own a smartphone. Many employers even provide their workers with smartphones these days.

[lz_infobox]35% of online working adults say the Internet, email and cell phones have increased the amount of time they spend working, and six in 10 American workers feel email is “very important” to the completion of their job. – 2014 Pew Research Center [/lz_infobox]

In 2012, One Poll, a provider of secure email servers, found nearly 70 percent of people refused to go to bed without checking their work email. The National Sleep Foundation found in 2011 that 43 percent of Americans didn’t get a good night’s rest on weeknights, and electronic devices were seen as a major reason.

A German study by Sabine Sonnentag at the University of Mannheim’s department of psychology entitled, “Psychological Detachment From Work During Leisure Time” found that disengaging is good for you. Employees who detach from work “during off-hours are more satisfied with their lives and experience fewer symptoms of psychological strain, without being less engaged while at work.” 

On the flip side, the Pew study  found almost half of employees found the Internet increased their productivity. There’s also the fact that connectivity and technology are currently reshaping the typical nine to five work week and creating new opportunities for younger generations.

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Take self-employed workers, for example. In 2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found in a study of millennials that nearly 30 percent were self-employed.

Frank Rolfe, a millennial who runs his own company — Southern Maine Certified Electronic Repair in Portland, finds the benefits of technology outweigh the perceived negatives of more work. Rolfe maintains he’s on the clock constantly thanks to his reliance on an online presence and his phone, but says he loves the freedom anyway. It’s a work-life balance that works for him.

“I really hated punching someone else’s clock, working bad hours while they reaped the rewards of my hard work. Working independently has given me the freedom to pursue things I probably wouldn’t have if I had kept on just working for someone else.”

He just makes sure his phone is always on.

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