Écoutez et répétez!
Delightful though the idea is, the French have not just banned work emails after 6pm despite the lurid headlines to that effect that spun around the world yesterday:
But as General de Gaulle used to say to the British government all the time: NON!
Or as French Trade Union official Michel de la Force told The Associated Press:
“They haven’t read the agreement.”
Faux, faux, faux!
This whole thing seems to have started with UK newspaper The Guardian which wrote:
Employers' federations and unions have signed a new, legally binding labour agreement that will require staff to switch off their phones after 6 pm. Under the deal, which affects a million employees in the technology and consultancy sectors (including the French arms of Google, Facebook, Deloitte and PwC)...employees will also have to resist the temptation to look at work-related material on their computers or smartphones.
The newspaper cites de la Force, as saying:
"We must also measure digital working time. We can admit extra work in exceptional circumstances but we must always come back to what is normal, which is to unplug, to stop being permanently at work."
This led to a flurry of excitable articles all working to the same theme: French workers clocking off at 6pm and being required by law to turn off their phones, computers or tablets so that they don’t feel pressured to check emails rather than luxuriating in the la vie en rose.In reality, it’s not a law.
It’s an agreement signed by two groups of employers with French trades unions CFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail) and CGC (Confédération générale des cadres) which provides an “obligation to disconnect” for contract workers.
France has a strict 35-hour work week to which all permanent employees are bound. But these limits do not apply to contract staff.
This agreement between employers and unions is intended to cap a contractor’s working day to no more than 13 hours, guaranteeing a minimum window for rest of 11 hours.
The Guardian reckons that one million workers will be impacted by this. One million is the rough guesstimate for the headcount across the tech and consultancy landscape in France.
But as noted above the agreement doesn’t apply to permanent staff, so scale that down significantly to a more conservative estimate of 250,000 at most. The agreement also only relates to managers, not general staff.
So it’s an interesting story but just not the one that’s got everyone pointing at the ‘lazy French’ and saying ’zut alors!’ a lot.French employers aren’t the only ones looking at ‘digital working time’ either. In Germany, Volkswagen agreed a deal with trades unions there that employees can only receive work emails from half an hour before they start work until half an hour after they finish. The rest of the time, devices such as Blackberrys will be shut down.
Meanwhile Deutsche Telekom has a “smart device policy” in place that allow employees to claim communication-free time when they are off work, in return for a commitment that bosses will not expect them to read e-mail or pick up the phone at all times.
Imagine trying that in Silicon Valley, or in the US in general, where there's inevitably been much incredulity at this apparent latest dodge by the cheese eating surrender monkeys [(c) The Simpsons.]
That said, the pervasive nature of mobile communication is something that we all ought to be concerned about in terms of a work-life balance.
I found myself thinking about this as the more wildly inaccurate interpretations of the French agreement spread yesterday.
As a UK-based individual dealing with Silicon Valley every day, how late am I prepared to check my emails? Pretty damn late is the answer.
What’s the first thing I do when I wake up? Check my iPhone for messages. According to an IDC study last year, I'm not alone. That found that within the first 15 minutes of waking up, 4 out of 5 smartphone owners are checking their phones and among these people, nearly 80% reach for their phone before doing anything else.
When was the last time you went to a social function where people weren’t checking their phones every few minutes? Restaurants, public transport, even in cinemas and theaters, people are glued to their in-boxes.
Miracle of the modern business age it may be, but mobile communication is a blessing and a curse.
Maybe the French have a point. (And that's not something you hear very often from me...)