France doesn't shut down at 6pm after all

Much has been made in the media recently about new French legislation regarding the rights of employees to ignore work communications in the evening. The Guardian, in the UK, fuelled this claiming that “[French] employers' federations and unions have signed a new, legally binding labour agreement that will require staff to switch off their phones after 6pm”.

Although some may be trying to give an impression of the French unions, having ensured copious holidays and a 35-hour working week, continuing to impose their will on powerless employers or that the French have actually achieved the fabled “work-life balance”, unfortunately the reality is far less clichéd.

This is in fact a non-compulsory “branch agreement” designed to be a safeguard for a subset of what might be called the “real workers” (typically those designated “engineers” and in non-managerial positions) that have fixed working hours. It has been put in place to protect from abuse by any “evil pointy-haired bosses” that might try to extend the working day for free in best “Dilbert-esque” traditions!

By no means does it “require” a Monday-to-Friday nationwide “switch-off” of professional devices at 6pm. Let’s be realistic. No-one switches their phone off at 6pm – unless their battery dies.  Indeed, there are enough studies about the behavior and anxiety suffered if people forget / lose / break their phones to know that the reality is people will keep their phones active.

With the emergence of new work styles and practices, the typical work day is no longer from 9am to 6pm, and in a global sense, business is not just 9am to 6pm French time. What is important is that those not in a flexible working environment now have control over whether or not they extend their work hours. They may choose to make themselves available in the evenings, for their U.S. colleagues for example, but if not, they are no longer obligated. It’s now perfectly acceptable to say “non”.

There are those that dream of the good life in France – the wine, skiing in the alps, Paris in the Spring, the wine, the style, the art, the wine, the café society, “cheap” house prices, the food, the wine…

Unfortunately, paying for this lifestyle means having a role that is always-on, with long days, responsibility and the high pressure that comes with it, just like everywhere else in the world.

So despite what some journalists may wish you to believe, my French colleagues will not be switching their phones off at 6pm. They are employees with dreams that require hard work, dedication and some long days.

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