The French labour ministry is thrashing out the details of a new set of labour laws, one of which could give professionals in France the “right to disconnect” when outside official hours.
Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri is due to present her package of labour reforms in the coming weeks.
While most of the measures are aimed at freeing up the notoriously rigid French labour market, she is also concerned about making sure French workers remain adequately protected.
According to reports in France she will include a proposal to give employees protection under law so they can turn a blind eye to work emails without feeling guilty when they are at home or on holiday.
The idea apparently originated in a report by the director general of mobile giant Orange, Bruno Mettling.
While a minority of companies already have protections in place to prevent employees responding to emails once they are at home, Mettling wants it written into law.
“There are risks that need to be anticipated and one of the biggest risks is the balance of a private life and professional life behind this permanent connectivity,” the Orange chief told Europe1 radio.
And Mettling thinks it would be good for everyone – both workers and their companies.
“Professionals who find the right balance between private and work life perform far better in their job than those who arrive shattered,” he said.
And Mettling’s words will strike a chord with many of the 3.2 million French workers who are apparently at risk of burning out, according to a study by Technologia, a French firm which looks at ways to reduce risks to workers.
“France’s appearance from the outside can be a bit simplified,” Technologia's head Jean-Claude Delgenes told The Local. “There is a lot of overtime. Most workers don’t adhere strictly to the 35-hour work week.”
Instead, they are staying late, doing more and working remotely because the economic crisis has them in fear of losing their jobs, he says. France is seeing a record unemployment rate but at the same time email and smart phones allow people to work any time, any place.
“We have poor self-control when it comes to new technology,” Delgenes said. “Work spills over into people’s private lives. The difference between work and social life used to be clearly distinct.”
Delgenes backs a reform to give workers a right to disconnect but says it is more important that companies lessen workloads or the risk of burnout could increase.
“We need a change of attitude. If we introduce a right to disconnect but not reduce the workload for those under pressure, managers will just ignore it or find a way of staying connected,” he told The Local.
“We need to stop putting people in a position where they are forced to eat into their personal time to get their job done.”
Technologia discovered that the number of managers in France, known as “cadres” who work at home between the hours of 8pm and midnight shot up from one third to 52 percent in the space of a decade.
And ironically it doesn’t mean they have become more productive.
“When people work too much, they end up working badly. It is counter-productive,” he said and it pushes many people to the edge of burnout,” he said.