Industrial Relations

French envy rife over email switch-off rule, but would it work here?

Melinda Oliver /

News yesterday that France had made it a “law” to not answer work emails or messages after 6pm may have been an exaggeration, but it raises the flag about work-life balance getting out of control.

A report in The Guardian said new labour laws in France would see employees of major technology companies including Apple and Google, as well as accountancy firms Deloitte and PwC, make their staff switch off work digital devices after 6pm.

The merits of the report were later disputed by BuzzFeed, which said it was not law, but an agreement between a federation of employers and two unions, designed to protect the wellbeing of workers in engineering and consulting industries. It also said there was no specific time set that emails need to be left alone.

Regardless of specifics, the idea gained momentum on social media, with Twitter users positive about the concept.

The Hoopla tweeted: “The French have made it illegal to answer work emails after 6pm. @Woogsworld is moving. Are you?”

Another user, Shreeya Sinha ‏wrote, “Move to France: They just banned work emails after 6pm”, while another user Roe McDermott was enthusiastic, tweeting: “Dear Jesus, can we please bring this in? Please? France bans work emails after 6pm.”

The Physio Co. director and SmartCompany ‘Culture is Everything’ blogger Tristian White says the enthusiasm for the idea demonstrates that work-life balance is a pressing issue, particularly for SMEs.

White says that some large organisations actually employ technology to make it impossible to access work emails after certain times, for smaller businesses the work-life balance culture needs to come from the top.

“It starts with the executive team, as what the directors and the boss do is what is expected in the business,” White says.

“Leaders need to stop sending emails and messages to their staff late at night.”

He also says it is up to staff members to make healthy habits when it comes to emails, such as allocating 30 minutes first thing in the morning to organise, respond to, and clear out emails.

White says a key issue is that the idea of “business hours” is getting blurred. He says the growing disparity between work and life, perpetuated by the ability to do work anywhere, and at any time, is enhanced by mobile devices and out-of-office access.

He says in Australia, it would not be practical to make a blanket law about email switch off times, as multiple professions work varying hours and need to email at all times of the day.

The key, White argues, is defining what is urgent and what can wait.

“Some business owners act as if every message is urgent,” he says.

“We have voicemails that say leave a message if this urgent, if not, we can talk in business time.”

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