The French just banned companies with more than 50 people from sending their workers after-hour emails. Well, “ban” is a bit of a strong word for a law that carries no actual penalties and its enactors concede is based on voluntary compliance. Perhaps “strong signal” is a better term, but what a marvelous signal it is!
You’d be hard pressed today to find anyone who doesn’t believe in traditional worker protections. That operating dangerous machines on factory floors shouldn’t carry the expectation of people losing a limb every week. Or working in construction shouldn’t mean inhaling asbestos all day. Or that work beyond 40 hours should be considered extraordinary and be compensated accordingly. It was government regulation, not the good-hearted nature of business owners, that brought this change about.
But that was for the blue-collar factory workers and other manual labor. What about the growing number of people staring at computers all day? The instinctual reaction is probably “ha!”. How hard can it be to type on a keyboard all day? What exactly do these pampered office workers really need to be protected from?
Lots, I’d say. While their limbs and lungs may generally not be at stake, their sanity certainly is. And it’s high time we recognize that just because your body isn’t at risk that all isn’t necessarily swell.
And that’s what the French are saying with this “ban”. That the ever-expanding expectations for when someone is available have gotten out of hand. And they absolutely have. Work emails are ticking in at all sorts of odd hours and plenty of businesses are dysfunctional enough to believe they have a right to have those answered, whatever the hour. That’s unhealthy, possibly even exploitative.
Same goes for forcing everyone to work in an open office. The research is mounting on all the ills that come from persistent noise and interruptions from that arrangement. Sure, it works for some. And not everyone who used the table saw without safety protection lost a limb either. That’s just not good enough.
I have no illusion that the French objection will find any sway with American lawmakers. You’re more likely to see it laughed at. Not just by lawmakers, but business owners (or venture capitalists). Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if most American workers wouldn’t chuckle at the “silly work-shy French”. Something-something Stockholm Syndrome.
What we need before we can even dream of having something like the French response is a change in attitudes. Less celebration of workaholism, more #WorkCanWait. More recognition that stress from unrealistic and unhealthy expectations and work habits is actually a real hazard to health and sanity.
It’s time for a new look at a new edge. Vive La France for showing the way!
Basecamp 3 has both lots of features that send emails and chat built-in. It’s the perfect storm for keeping workers chained to work after hours. But we realized this from the beginning and launched the new version with worker protections in place: Work Can Wait.