Many Americans’ initial reaction to the France’s latest workplace protection move is to dismiss it as silly or as a product of an overreaching nanny state. American news outlets and sites that repurpose content without fact-checking have not helped with headlines such as “It’s Now Illegal to Answer Work Emails After 6 P.M. in France” and claims that the French workweek is 35 hours. As usual, the truth lies beyond the headline.
The French want to ban work emails sent after 6 p.m. Should you? http://t.co/yFW4YJjCOS @evilhrlady
— Inc. (@Inc) April 11, 2014
First, to get a few facts straight, France, as a country, did not make any laws regarding employees checking emails. Rather, two unions connected with the tech, engineering, and consulting sectors agreed to this measure to protect certain workers’ health and free time. France’s traditional 35-hour workweek may sound cushy, but the national average is still almost 40 hours per week. The new regulation affects those who work up to 80 hours per week within those sectors, who number somewhere around 250,000 and, I assume, welcome the ability to live their life.
— PCMag (@PCMag) April 10, 2014
American misunderstanding of French and European work culture seems to stems from a more recent history in America of anti-worker protection measures. Matt Novak wrote an excellent article about the lost American ideal of a shorter workweek, so I won’t delve into it. Suffice it to say, we used to see a shorter work week as the progression of an advanced society.
The French are at it again. http://t.co/ThUKrN9KED
— Fast Company (@FastCompany) April 11, 2014
Before anyone gets on their ‘merican high-horse and belly-aches about the loss of productivity and the harm such a move could do to companies’ bottom lines, read. That’s all—just read. Read about how northern European countries, such as Sweden, have some of the most progressive workers’ protection laws while retaining the most stable economies. Read about Volkswagen’s German office forcibly deactivating BlackBerrys after work hours in 2011. The company did not whither into oblivion.
It’s utterly human to jump to conclusions, but it’s frustrating to see national stereotypes and politics obscure a conversation that Americans may need to have.
About 1% of French citizens are affected by this recent announcement – a point which many publications left out http://t.co/nQGaRQfB2f
— Rude Baguette (@RudeBaguette) April 11, 2014