And now there is another reason to move to France; People there now have the right to ignore business-related emails that arrive after the close of work from office.
A new law that came into effect with the new year says that establishments with more than 50 employees must give workers the “right to disconnect” from email, smartphones and other devices during negotiated hours.
“These measures are designed to ensure respect for rest periods and balance between work, family and personal life,” a spokesperson from France’s ministry of labour revealed in a statement.
The regulations, though, contain several items that are designed to sharpen France’s workforce, which has been criticised as over-regulated and rigid in the face of globalisation. Other measures include more flexibility on work rules and overtime as well as granting employers more power to hire and fire.
But they are also acknowledgement that recent technology has dealt a tremendous blow to the French way of life, which emphasizes enjoying time off and regulations that encourage a 35-hour workweek.
“All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant,” Benoit Hamon of the French National Assembly told the BBC when the law was being mulled last year. “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash — like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails; they colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”
And Technologia, a risk analysis firm, found that 3.2 million French workers were emotionally exhausted from work and at risk of developing burnout symptoms like exhaustion and chronic stress.
“It is a real problem,” said Yves Lasfargue, a sociologist who specialises in teleworking. “Twenty years ago, before emails had been invented and we could not reach colleagues, we would have to go and knock on their doors. Traditional courtesy teaches you to abstain from disturbing people. With these new tools, this form of courtesy has totally disappeared.”
Meanwhile, a union survey in November last year found that 75% of its managers worked at home in the evening. More than 50% of managers said they worked on weekends and holidays, according to UGICT-CGT, a union of engineers, managers and technicians.
The union became aware of the problem after it heard that German automaker Volkswagen shuts down its servers after work so employees can’t send emails. “It made us reflect upon our own work conditions, so we launched our own campaign,” said Sophie Binet, the union’s secretary-general.
Areva, a French nuclear power company, drew up rules four years ago to let workers disconnect.
“We wanted to negotiate a general agreement on the quality of life at work. This included the use of new technologies,” said Philippe Thurat, Areva’s diversity and work-life balance manager.
Areva didn’t adopt strict guidelines. Workers can still send emails at night, but the company launched an education campaign asking employees not to email between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. or on their days off.
“The idea was not so much to establish a right to switch off but rather to address the topic of a healthy use of emails and set clear boundaries,” Thurat said.
The company says after-hour emails dropped 11% in 2015, from 20% in 2012, and the staff is just as productive, said Areva spokesman Christophe Neugnot.
“If I receive an email from one of my colleagues during the weekend, I don’t feel that I have an obligation to reply,” Neugnot said. “And I won’t answer, because I don’t wish to prompt him to reply back again.”