The French are saying au revoir to the obligation of handling work-related calls and emails during after-work hours. A new work conditions reform law (titled the ‘El Khomri’ law) passed by the French government earlier this month and, while it has proved to be highly unpopular among French citizens (it’s thought to benefit companies more than workers), the law’s Article 25 is the first of its kind to propose an employee’s "right to disconnect."
The El Khomri law stems from the growing idea that disconnecting from technology is essential for maintaining a good work-life balance, as well as for people’s general well-being. As reported by Lauren Collins for The New Yorker, Article 25 states: “The development of information and communication technologies, if badly managed or regulated, can have an impact on the health of workers. Among them 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.”
Perhaps inspired by Volkswagen, which shuts down its servers after normal work hours, or Daimler (also a German auto company), which has a policy allowing employees to delete any work correspondence they receive on vacation — Article 25 proposes that employers create policies to prevent work from seeping into their employee’s out-of-office lives. This means that French workers now have the right to be left alone during non-work hours so they can relax and recharge for the next work day.
This innovative law has raised the question of whether this type of ‘right to disconnect’ policy could possibly be implemented in the U.S. — a country notorious for its long work days and little vacation time.
The question certainly seems pertinent: in a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2013, researchers found that 52 percent of employed adults checked their work messages before or after work, and 53 percent checked at least once on both Saturday and Sunday. Additionally, 44 percent reported that they stayed plugged into work correspondence while on vacation, and 54 percent checked their messages even when home sick.
Whether a law similar to Article 25 is imposed in the U.S. or not, building in time to disconnect from technology may be crucial for people’s health and wellness — particularly when it comes to sleep. Although the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for most healthy adults, slumber can quickly be undone by a buzzing or ringing smartphone with an after hours message from a boss or coworker.
Additionally, using our phones or other devices at night can lead to the sleep-delaying effects of blue light, and those who work on a computer all day can suffer from computer vision syndrome — a condition in which people experience burning, itching or redness in their eyes after overexposure to digital screens.
On top of the wine, cheese and extra-long maternity leave, this ‘right to disconnect’ from your phone after a long day’s work is, perhaps, one more reason to embrace that infamous French lifestyle.