France is getting ready to ban out-of-hours emails


European giant’s plans to help workers switch off receives mixed response

Stress experts are warning that the France’s attempts to ban out-of-hours work emails are no panacea to improving workplace health.

The country’s socialist government wants to ban electronic communication outside normal working hours, with President Francois Hollande arguing that workers have a “right to disconnect”.

The move comes after some mental health experts argued that 24-hour communication is creating a stress epidemic, particularly as teleworking becomes more prevalent and work is increasingly not a place you go, but a thing that you do. “”At home the workspace can be the kitchen or the bathroom or the bedroom. We shift from a work email to a personal WhatsApp to a Facebook picture to a professional text – all on the same tool,” Linh Le, a partner at Elia management consultants in Paris told BBC News. “You’re at home but you’re not at home, and that poses a real threat to relationships.”

Yet France already has some of the world’s strictest employment laws, with workers restricted to a 35-hour working week and six weeks’ paid annual leave. The country also has a ban on shift work between 9pm and 6am unless the work plays an important role in the economy or is socially useful. In fact, Apple was recently fined €10,000 for making workers work night shifts.

The country’s proposed email law has received a mixed response, with some criticizing the level of government interference in commerce. Others say it is only a part-solution to workplace stress. “One helpful solution is for companies to put systems in place that make other staff and customers aware when someone is ‘off work’ which can reduce work-related interruptions and define the boundaries more clearly,” said Adrian Lewis, director of Activ Absence, a software company that helps companies manage staff leave. “Rather than just restricting our email communication, which is only part of the problem, our leaders need to be encouraging employees to switch off altogether sometimes and leave the digital soup behind. Setting expectations about the use of mobiles and unplugging from emails during holidays is something managers should be doing as a matter of course and leading by example.”

Others such as Financial Times management columnist Lucy Kellaway argue that being able to check emails while on holiday helps employees keep in touch, reducing the stress of returning to work to find projects piled up and requests and queries outstanding.