Smartphones are great and terrible at the same time because they mean that while you won’t miss any important emails, your office is also in your pocket at all times. You won’t miss an important email, you can be reached when you absolutely need to be, and you can ping work chat if need be. But of course, that comes with the downside that you’re always in the office, and that if you don’t set rigid boundaries, you’re always on the clock. The French, however, are trying to put a stop to it.
As of Sunday, French employees of companies larger than fifty people have a “right to disconnect.” What that means, exactly, is negotiated by employees in each company, and at the very least, companies are expected to make their after-hours expectations explicit. While the rules are voluntary and don’t have government enforcement, it may be a matter of time before they’re given some teeth. “Always On” work culture is increasingly being shown to be bad for employees: They come in exhausted and stressed and more cynical about their jobs.
This respite comes as part of a broader package to loosen France’s notoriously strict labor laws, which was passed amid protests and violence in July, but Americans shouldn’t have to wait for a law. We can all set boundaries with our workplace, whether you regularly schedule a day off or simply make it clear that you’re not going to be able to answer work email after dinner. In many workplaces, the real traps are the expectations we set on ourselves. If we shift those, we might all do a little better on the job.