France: Turn Off, Tune Out, Enjoy Life!


Here’s a scenario that’s all too familiar in America: You come home from a 10-hour day at the office and are about to start dinner for the family.  All seems to be going well so far until…the phone vibrates on the table.  You turn your phone on to find an important email from your boss.  It’s an urgent email boss, saying that you have a work project that must get done by TOMORROW.  The project will take all night, so you cancel the dinner plans and end up ordering take-out while you complete MORE work at home.

If this scenario has happened to you, you’re not alone!  American employees read thousands of emails every day and some of those emails are read after they get out of work.  The constant ringing emails, text messages, and messages from work give us such a headache that we sometimes become so detached from our personal lives.  This digital drama has become so problematic that we become so stressed out about the company community we’re a part of.  That’s about to change this year for France.

Since January 1st, France enacted a new law that made it illegal for companies to expect employees to check work emails while out of the office.  Sacre bleu!  Any company with more than 50 employees must negotiate times when employees have the right to ignore any work-based communications (which include email, instant messages, and calls as well).  Known as the “right to disconnect”, its designed to ensure a better work/life balance for everyone.

France has a traditional work week of 35 hours, so this law would save employees hours of unpaid work.  Employees who are more rested and relaxed means they will reduce time off from work, thus saving money for companies in the long run.  Employees would also be able to get through larger workloads during office hours without the fear of working into the night.

What’s interesting is that several companies in Europe already adopted policies to diminish the ‘always-on’ culture in the workplace.  Large companies in Germany like Volkswagen and Daimler already took steps to limit out-of-hours messaging in order to reduce burnouts.  Some measures even involved cutting email connections in the evening/weekends or even destroying emails automatically that are sent while employees are celebrating a holiday.  Countries like Germany and France are leading the path to a better work/life balance culture for their employees.

America is one of the hardest-working countries of all time, with Americans working an average of 34.4-hour weeks (some full-time workers clock in an average of 47 hours per week!).  All of that hard work is burning us out faster than other countries and leading a spike in work-related stress.  That work-related stress causes symptoms such as discouragement, pessimism, anxiety, depression, cognitive difficulties, and being overwhelmed/unable to cope with decision-making.  The economy may be recovering, but the battle for a better work/life balance is far from over.

I definitely agree with France’s new “right to disconnect” law!  Digital drama shifts from the office to your home, causing friction between your professional life and personal life.  Those emails, text messages, and calls from your work community disperses you farther and farther from reality.  What once was your perfect family life has now become the American Dream you can’t seem to reach for.

This definitely rings true that America is one of the hardest working countries of all time.  It always boggles my mind hearing of friends that work 70-80 hour week shifts just to survive.  We seemed to have pulled ourselves out of the recession, but people are still struggling to find a comfortable work/life balance atmosphere.  More working hours means we’re missing out on more on so much of what life has to offer.

What do you want to remember about your work life in 30-40 years?  Do you really want to discuss tales of working 70-80 hours in the office until you retired?  Or do you want to be one of those people that exited the rat race here in America?  It’s your life you lead in the end, so it shouldn’t be swarmed by constant work emails every day.

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