You’ve just had a lovely evening out at your favorite bistro. You’ve supped on steak frites, had a couple of glasses of the house red, and splurged on crème brûlée for dessert. You take the long way home, meandering through an arrondissement or deux, holding hands with your sweetie pie, then turn down your own rue. Chez sweet chez. Yes indeed-y, evening in Paris can be a lot more romantic and enjoyable than the local drugstore powder and perfume kit of the same name – the one you got your mother for Christmas when you were in fourth grade. And then – zut alors – your téléphone intelligent starts vibrating in the very coat pocket where you were holding your beloved’s hand. You check and, sacré bleu, it’s your boss, blasting out a midnight email, asking some nit-wit question that could absolutely wait until the morning.
This scenario can, of course, play out in pretty much any 21st century city or ‘burb, given that all us knowledge workers are ready, available, and pretty much willing to answer the “call of duty” 24/7. The price of connectivity. The price you pay for taking part of the afternoon off to visit your gyn, or watch your kid’s kindergarten play.
But in France, as of the first of the year, there’s a new law in place.
The new employment law requires French companies with more than 50 employees to begin drawing up policies with their workers about limiting work-related technology usage outside the office, the newspaper reported.
The motivation behind the legislation is to stem work-related stress that increasingly leaks into people's personal time — and hopefully prevent employee burnout, French officials said.
“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash, like a dog,” Benoit Hamon, Socialist member of Parliament and former French education minister, told the BBC in May. “The texts, the messages, the emails: They colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.” (Source: Washington Post)
Say what you will about Socialists, but they do seem to have the best words. Benoit Hamon had me a “electronic leash.” But then to follow up with the bit about how all that digital communication manages to “colonize the life of the individual.” C’est so very, very vrai.
Still, much as I laud any efforts to unleash the colonized individual, I do think that this is a bit of Nanny State over-legislation.
Companies should have policies that set guidelines for what are reasonable expectations about how employees should use electronic communications, and what a reasonable response time is for a non-business critical issue. (In my experience, 99.9999% of those issues will fall into that bucket.) Yet we all know that we’re going to get sucked in. After all, all that’s being asked is one teensie little question, and you know the answer. And that answer will help a colleague or your boss finish up what they’re doing at night or on the weekend when you’re really not doing anything all that important. I mean, come on, that’s a computer in your pocket. So easy to just whip it out and start computing. It’ll only take a second.
Sure, as a matter of policy course, companies should lay-out what the general expectations are, train/encourage their managers (and employees) to observe them, and, if they need to, do something to gently enforce good behavior. But a law? A law? How’s that gonna work?
Your boss emails you after hours. You ignore the email. Your boss gets pissed and texts you. You ignore the text. Your boss gets more pissed and calls. You ignore the call, then rat your boss out to HR the next day – with all the digital documentation attached. No he-say, she-say here! It’s he-text, she-text. All there in living, digital black and white.
So, if your boss doesn’t get fired, how thrilled do you think that he/she’s going to be with you? Especially when it turns out that what he/she wanted was something pretty quick and simple.
Of course, you can argue the principle of the thing…
Nope. We’re too far down the “always on” path to build impermeable walls around me time/company time. As I said, it’s the price we pay for having more flexibility, more come-and-go freedom on/from the job.
Yes, there are certainly companies and individuals who abuse this. And we’ve all seen examples of what none of us want to be: the dad at the ballgame with his kid who’s paying more attention to his work texts than he is to making sure his kid gets an explanation of the infield fly rule. The couple on a “date” that seems largely composed of them sitting in a restaurant in their own individual business-as-usual cocoons.
Yes, “always on” can be hideous, a drag on relationships, a drag on “real life.”
But I don’t think that having a law against after-hours texting is going to change all that. Et, mon dieu, the French already have a 35 hour work week. What else do they want? (Send me an after-hours text if you find out.)