French employees win ‘right to disconnect’

Lucy Purdy

France has passed a bill urging companies to respect employees’ time outside of office hours. Could similar legislation help people aged 25-34 in the UK – the group that is unhappiest with work-life balance here?

According to a report recently released by YouGov, one in five working UK adults aged between 25-34 is dissatisfied with their work-life balance. Many report working extra hours for free and feeling increasingly disengaged from their jobs.

Some 43 per cent of respondents said they read or send work-related emails outside of office hours, while 38 per cent reported making or receiving work calls while on holiday. “Responding to communications is one of the major pressures employees feel. The pressure to go above and beyond what should be normally expected is very real,” said Stephen Harmston, head of YouGov Reports.

The pressure to go above and beyond what should be normally expected is very real

The findings come just months after workers in France were given the legal right to avoid emails outside of office hours. The ‘right to disconnect’ law came into force on 1 January. Companies with more than 50 employees are now required to draw up a charter of good conduct, detailing when staff should not send or respond to emails.

“These measures are designed to ensure respect for rest periods and balance between work and family and personal life,” read a statement from the Ministry of Labour. However, the legislation does not include any fines for companies that flout the rules.

Supporters of the ruling said that employees who are expected to check and respond to emails outside of the working day should be paid overtime. They warned that digital technology has created an “explosion of undeclared labour”.

These measures are designed to ensure respect for rest periods and balance between work and family and personal life

France has a working week of 35 hours which has been in place since 2000.

It is not the first experiment of its kind in Europe. Volkswagen is reported to prevent its email servers from delivering messages to employees in Germany when they are on holiday. Car-makers Daimler and BMW, insurance company Allianz-France and telecoms firm Orange also restrict employees’ use of email.


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