How you can benefit from France's new 'right to disconnect' rule
Through the “right to disconnect” law, French employers now must implement policies on how they interact with work during off hours. Here’s how you can take France’s lead and still get your job done.
The timer for the pizza you have in the oven goes off just as your phone lights up with an email from your boss. Looks like dinner will have to wait.
Unless you work in France.
As of Jan. 1, workers in France have the “right to disconnect,” a measure that forces employers with 50 or more employees to negotiate terms and define rights with the workforce as they pertain to working once they’ve clocked out for the day, The Guardian reported.
Buuuut you live in the U.S. And we get that it’s hard to silence your phone and not be at the beck and call of your inbox at all hours of the day. Let’s examine the benefits to leaving your work at the office and offer a few hacks so you can stay productive while enjoying your well deserved off time.
What France gets right
France’s new law sounds pretty great, right? To not have to answer that 11 p.m. email before bed. To be able to ignore that weekend ping. (Not to mention, have a mandated 35-hour workweek, minimum five weeks of vacation and a dozen paid holidays.)
While we’re tipping our hats to France, judging by a couple recent surveys, it looks like we could benefit from similar restrictions on this side of the Atlantic. A Gallup poll found that a little more than one-third of full-time workers in the U.S. frequently check email outside of normal working hours. Additionally, 81% of U.S. salaried employees report that they work outside of their standard hours, with 29% doing it three or more times a week, according to a Harris Poll.
Monster careers expert Vicki Salemi believes France’s law is great for a few reasons, mainly because it should decrease the amount of work-related stress seeping into your personal time and could prevent professional burnout.
“This law is basically saying you should not only log off after work hours, you’re encouraged to do so,” she says. “If you’re always checking or responding to after-hours emails, you’re basically on the clock 24/7. So when does your brain ever get to shut down?”
The new French law should really help to cut down on employee burnout, Salemi adds.
“We should work to live, not the other way around,” she says. “‘Right to disconnect’ recognizes that yes, you do, in fact, have a life beyond work.”
Additionally, a few studies support what the French hope to accomplish with this new legislation. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that the more frequently you check your email, the more stressed you feel. A study from the University of Illinois also shows that our productivity is boosted after a break.
There’s no such law in the U.S., so what can you do?
Short of moving to France, most of us—at least the ones with tough bosses— are expected to respond to email well past working hours. But we can draw our own limits.
Salemi recommends setting bedtimes for your phone—just keep it out of your bedroom. Chances are, you’ll sleep better, too. And don’t rush to check emails the minute you wake up, either. Odds are your managers will adapt to your way of doing business. Just make sure you get back to them first thing in the morning.
“Here in the U.S., you’ll need to earn the right to disconnect,” she says. “To do this, you should start by setting boundaries. So if you get an email after working hours, you can draft a response, but you may not want to hit send until 9 a.m. the next day.”
But if you have one of those bosses, you know the type, who constantly emails you on weekends and at all hours of the day and expects—check that, demands—you respond, Salemi says you need to consider if this is the right job for you. (In which case, you’ve come to the right place to find a new job that offers better work-life balance.)
Salemi says you can also set an example yourself by not emailing your colleagues after they’ve left for the day. But if you do, consider saying something in the email like, “Emailing this now while it’s on my mind but no need to respond until working hours tomorrow.”
So next time you get that 7 p.m. email…
Boundaries are all well and good, but you know you’re going to be compromised the second you see that banner display on your phone’s home screen. So here are a few practical action steps you can take the next time this happens:
You’ll be tempted to check your phone, Salemi says, but before you do, take stock of whom you’re with and what you’re doing. If you’re with your family or even on a treadmill at the gym, then ask yourself if you really think that message is urgent.
If you do check to see what it says, Salemi says you’ll then need to figure out if it needs an instant response. Is it an emergency? Does it require action or is it an FYI? Does the email require a simple yes or no response? And if you’re responding, are you setting a precedent that it’s OK to be contacted after hours? Or if you’re out with friends at a bar, are you in the best shape to respond?
Salemi says these are all questions you’ll need to ask yourself the next time work beckons after hours. The devil is in defining les détails.