Why France’s “right to disconnect” law is a step in the right direction

The French government recently voted through a labour bill that included a right to disconnect law. Though the bill itself was not widely acclaimed, this one law within it was designed in an attempt to reduce burnout and help employees achieve better work-life balance. The law essentially requires that companies of more than 50 people in size create a policy that explicitly states the hours during which employees are not expected to read or respond to work-related calls and emails.

At its core, the law would mean that outside of regular working hours, an employee would not be expected to work.

Welcomed by many French workers who are at serious risk of job-related burnout, the law has also generated some backlash from people in France and around the world— like over its potential impact on companies whose business is conducted in more than one time zone or country, or on people who enjoy the flexibility of working from home. It’s also been criticized over the fact that it isn’t currently enforceable, nor will it ever be easily enforced.

But amidst many of the concerns, criticism, and politics, there is much to say about what this law is really trying to achieve and why it’s important.

A “right” to disconnect

At a minimum, this law is designed to make employees feel like they can disconnect when they might want to. It’s meant to encourage the idea that disconnecting from work and enjoying downtime is not only okay, but respected and encouraged by the employer.

It says a lot of today’s culture that people need to be given a right to disconnect from the expectation of always being on. Technology has played a major role in blurring the line between working and non-working hours — blending work-related expectations with personal or social life. The problem is that there hasn’t really been a general standard around this issue, and with technology and digital communications so seamlessly integrated into our lives, this has led to the heightened and unreasonable expectation from colleagues and management and consumers alike that we, as a society, are always available.

That’s a mindset that needs to change.

Increased awareness of balance

The overuse of the phrase “work-life balance” is causing it to lose as much meaning as the word “digital detox” did a few years ago. It’s tossed around so frequently while little is actually done from an organizational perspective to encourage balance or discourage burnout. But its merit still exists — and a law or policy like this one recognizes that.

A company-wide policy imposed from a government body encouraging employees to spend less time working during non-working hours will undoubtedly help people build an awareness and understanding of how they manage their time. Do I need to send this email now? Is it reasonable that I expect a reply at this hour? Can this wait until tomorrow?

This law will help start a healthy conversation over better management of time during working hours, and better use of time during non-working hours. Part of the problem with finding balance is that we are unable to recognize how much it really is needed until someone else points it out, and many of those who are against this law or something similar are people who may unknowingly benefit from an imposed refresher.

On the other hand, I do acknowledge that work-life balance wrongfully implies that work and life are separate entities that should be consumed in equal, balanced parts. I don’t believe that to be true, but what I do find important is that people seek other pleasures to become immersed in as fully — to enjoy small and spontaneous moments in life that are completely detached from a work mindset.

You can still love your job, yet also enjoy life outside of the office. Acknowledging time to physically and mentally disconnect from work, I believe, is an important part of living.

Increased productivity and focus

Creating a policy that explicitly draws the line between working and non-working hours may improve the way a person spends their time during working hours, knowing they can’t (or shouldn’t) get to it later that evening or on the weekend. This change in mindset can help emphasize that greater focus is required in order to get tasks completed efficiently and on time.

While in some cases this policy may initially decrease productivity — emergency conflict resolution, fewer sales calls into the evening — think for a moment what a stricter work period would look like in the long-term. People would become more respective to timelines, agendas be more acutely followed, and tasks be organized in a more timely, efficient manner. The sheer volume of emails sent would decrease — which has always been a drain on productivity during regular working hours anyway.

Heightened creativity

The blurred line between work and life has been primarily responsible for burnout, and a burnt out workforce is certainly not a creative one. With the nag of always being connected to work, it can be difficult for someone to really enjoy and become immersed in non-work related activities, which are known to boost creativity.

Playing sports, exercising, learning new skills, reading, or writing are just some of the activities that can really invigorate and refresh a tired mind. But someone who’s working on the expectation of a 24-hour schedule is less likely to free their mind and become fully engaged with an activity like one that truly spurs creativity.

There are so many things that should be enjoyed without the interruption of work. Going out for dinner with a friend, reading a book at a cafe, enjoying the afternoon with your family — these are life’s simple pleasures that many of us cannot enjoy fully due to always being on.

I believe that if this mindset can be changed in business, it may also trickle down to other areas of life: a mother who is able to disconnect in the evenings could pass on that same mentality to her kids, and her kids may pass their new attitudes on to their friends. The ability to disconnect has become lost on many people, and changing the conversation about the way it’s always been could be just what we need.

At Flipd, we practice what we preach. We balance productive and timely work with energizing activities and hobbies, and it’s this mentality that helps our team stay sharp, healthy, creative, and competitive.

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