Legislation passed in France made it into the UK press this month, as it focuses on employees’ use of email outside working hours. The story has been reported in a variety of ways, from horror that employees can ‘ignore’ their email, to broader considerations of how technology is making it increasingly difficult to leave work in the workplace.
Here at the Future Work Centre, we’ve been advocates for revisiting how we use technology in and out of work, but at the same time we’ve warned against one-size-fits-all solutions to the challenge of email. So, we thought it was worth taking a look at this story in more detail.
In summary, the legislation requires firms employing more than 50 people to engage in structured negotiation to agree the terms of email usage outside of normal working hours. We can see that it’s not about ‘banning’ email at night, nor does it apply to all French employees.
Where an agreement isn’t in place, the organisation is still required to clarify their expectations about how and when employees can be contacted by email outside of their agreed working hours. This clarification could represent a very welcome step to clarifying expectations and removing ambiguity on both sides, something we’ve encouraged since the publication of our ‘You’ve got mail!’ report.
Will it work?
A potential positive outcome of this legislation is that employers and employees can get additional clarity on how email can and should be used. This absence of clear norms and expectations has been consistently highlighted in scientific research as one of the downsides of email as a communications tool.
It also has the potential to identify some clear email-free time for employees each evening, giving them the opportunity to relax and step away from work.
Additionally, this legislation doesn’t appear to be a one-size-fits-all regulation, rather the spark for some sensible negotiation and conversation.
On the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the new law will improve the work–life balance of French employees. It’s a very subjective concept and looks and feels very different for the diverse individuals who make up the workforce. As we’ve pointed out previously, checking your emails at night isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it’s by choice and a way of fitting work around other important responsibilities in your life.
It remains to be seen what the uptake of negotiations will be and how the agreements will be put in place and monitored over time. And just because you’re not reading your emails at night, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be there to greet you the following morning.
Lots of questions
At this stage – the very early days of these new regulations – we’re left with more questions than answers! For example:
- Will employees feel confident to take part in these negotiations?
- Will employers engage positively in the process?
- Will senior leaders positively role model the agreements?
- Will it lead to a reduction in email volume?
- Will employees’ well-being and satisfaction benefit from the changes?
We’ve recorded a special episode of our podcast ‘Evidence Talks’ to briefly discuss this story and we’d welcome your input as we monitor developments over the coming months. Get in touch if you’re directly impacted by this new legislation in France, whether as an employee or employer.
Or, if you’re located elsewhere, tell us if you’d welcome similar legislation in your own country and why.
We look forward to finding out more about how usage of email changes in France (if at all) and of course we’ll share our findings with you here.