French people welcomed New Year with new laws, one of which will make workers across America jealous. On January 1, a new employment law entered into force in France. And it’s there to protect the employees by tackling one overwhelming question of our modern lives. And the question is: should employees still answer calls and emails after their working day is over? France doesn’t want them to. What is now a legal right for French continues to be a heated debate for Americans.
The inevitable impact of technology on every aspect of our lives is no secret. But for many employees, it blurred the line between their personal and professional lives with confusing consequences. The question of when they have the right to switch off, if at all, continues to bother many.
Technology has created what many call “always-on” or “always-available” work culture. While it might serve employer’s needs, employees are certainly not happy. The phenomenon is huge enough to have a name: telepressure. Larissa Barber, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University created the term. It is meant to describe the constant urge to respond to work emails, no matter when they come. Now, all of this probably sounds more serious that you expected. But let’s move on to find more.
What Does the Law Say Exactly?
It was France’s labor minister, Myrisam El Khormi, who introduced the employment law. She was concerned with the so-called “info-obesity” taking over workplaces and peoples’ lives. So, does the law uncompromisingly ban any communication out-of-work hours? No, but it insists on negotiation. It obliges organizations with more than 50 workers to negotiate and define employees’ rights related to such communication.
That sounds like a perfect conversation to have with your boss, doesn’t it? Imagine you meet only to discuss the ways of minimizing the intrusion of work into your private life. Pure satisfaction. But what if the negotiation fails? It’s the employers’ problem anyway. Then, they will have to prepare a charter that would specify the rights of employees out-of-hours. All straight and clear.
Some major companies like Volkswagen already reacted to the employment law and modified their policies. Companies reduce the number of emails sent in the evening or the weekends. There is even an option of emails being automatically destroyed if they are sent during vacation. How cool is that? We all know that feeling when our enjoyment of life is interrupted by an annoying beep.
What’s the situation in the US like?
America has seen a lot of complaints and lawsuits related to this issue. And US employment law seems not to catch up with the alarming situation. The Fair Labor Standards Act was signed in 1938 and was originally written for factory workers. Who, as you imagine, had no option of working after their hours were over. The act has seen a number of modifications, none of which however relate to this issue. So how do employees react?
Okay, they say, if our bosses expect us to reply to emails out of work hours, then they’ll have to pay for it. Fair enough. Ex-employers at T-Mobile sued their company on these grounds. Their claim was that the company owed for being forced to respond to emails and calls after working hours. And this is just one example out of many such cases.
However, there is another side of the coin too. They are many workers who don’t speak up. The job market is saturated and losing a job is not an option for many Americans. Another argument is that technology has given workers autonomy and flexibility, which they wouldn’t otherwise have. So, many don’t like the prospect of losing it.
Are the Dangers Real?
Americans check their emails before and after work and even when they take a sick day. Replying to a short email may seem like nothing, but researchers disagree. They show that such a habit ensues negative health consequences. To go even further, answering the emails isn’t the only source of stress. Another study shows that the feeling of being expected to answer is yet another nightmare. The pressure of being “always on” may result in the following
- worse sleep
- high levels or burnout
- more health relate absences at work
And it’s fairly simple why. If employees have no time to recover, next day they will probably head to work over-exhausted. You might want to impress your boss by how fast you are but you better watch out for your health.
The gratification of receiving instant message replies comes at a price. The best would be to avoid the extremes and find the right balance. Let technology be a gift that it deserves and not a curse. And let your well being be your permanent priority.