Simon Says: The French Dis-Connection

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For nearly a decade, when cell phones were just cell phones, Verizon asked “Can you hear me now?” Today, smartphones offer multiple ways to communicate and engage anytime, anywhere. Now, people of all ages are constantly connected and we are happily living much of the time in our virtual world. With the art of verbal conversation in free fall, commercials may as well be asking “Can you see me now?”

“Since 2000, French workers have had a 35-hour work week. Now, they can also say au revoir to those pesky after-hours emails.” – Tami Simon

Technology has revolutionized the way we communicate and transformed the way we work, leading to seismic shifts in behavioral and cultural norms. The lines between work and personal are blurred as the rapid acceleration of always-on technologies demands a new breed of worker. While offering endless flexibility to those who don’t want to – or can’t – work a traditional 9 to 5 job, opening the technology floodgates has spawned a seemingly non-stop digital work overload. And, in the face of 21st century global competition, disconnecting is no longer an option. Emails are sent from clients, coworkers and managers in the middle of the night, on weekends and holidays, often expecting – or insisting on – quick responses. Job stress and burnout have intensified as demands are at an all-time high to be constantly plugged in. Workers who disconnect may fear being left behind. Others long for the good old days when they could clock out at 5 and leave work at the office. Unfortunately, there’s no app for that.

Just when we thought work-life balance had gone the way of the Tyrannosaurus rex, voilà, the French have taken a stand. From Bray-Dunes to Puig de Comanegra, from Lauterbourg to Pointe de Corsen, workers stood up and said trop c’est trop – enough is enough. No more! Like Quasimodo, they cried “sanctuary” – not from the ringing of the bells of Notre Dame but from the vibrating of their smartphones. They called for the government to intervene.

Data shows the average French worker works about 1,500 hours per year while their American cousins put in roughly 1,800. Although the US does not guarantee workers paid vacation, most get three weeks (plus some federal holidays). As Expedia’s 2016 Vacation Deprivation Study shows, many of them leave time on the table to avoid being seen as slackers. By contrast, full-time French workers are guaranteed at least five weeks’ paid vacation in addition to another dozen public holidays, and they usually take them all. Since 2000, French workers have had a 35-hour work week. Now, they can also say au revoir to those pesky after-hours emails.

The French rang in the new year with a law requiring companies with more than 50 employees to guarantee the right to disconnect outside usual working hours and enter into negotiations to limit the hours for sending and answering emails. But it leaves open how to address the connectivity problem and provides no penalties for noncompliance.

Banning after-work emails in the US may only be a pipe-dream. But for me, I can only say…. Vive la France!

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