A dditions to France’s (in)famously long labour code rarely raise the pulse. But when workers won the “right to disconnect” from emails outside work hours on January 1 it made headlines as far afield as the US and Australia.
The measure aims to tackle “info-obesity”, which has been blamed for rising unpaid overtime as well as increasingly blurred lines between work life and private life. Introduced by Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, it obliges companies with more than 50 employees to negotiate periods of time when they are allowed to ignore their smartphones.
There are no penalties for employers who don’t take action. But they will expose themselves to litigation, noted Eleas, a French research group which last year found that a third of workers worked overtime every day using their devices.
French leftists applauded the law and among those abroad it added to the idea that France, with its 35-hour working week, is a socialist paradise. “More awesomeness from #France,” Occupy Wall Street tweeted.
It is well-documented that burnout is bad for productivity, whereas periods of completely switching off tend to improve performance. But smartphones also have upsides for workers, who can leave the office and pick up an email at home instead of staying late. Some experts praised the law for encouraging negotiations instead of laying down strict rules.
Even in pure economic terms, however, collective addiction to work emails may be counterproductive. A 2002 study by researchers at Loughborough University found that 70% of emails were opened within six seconds, and it then took over a minute to regain concentration. Perhaps the real question is how to kick the habit altogether.