France Wants to Ban Work Emails After 6 PM. Should You?
Do you need protection--i.e., protection from the evil known as after hours emails? If so, you're not alone: Michael de La Force, chairman of the General Confederation of Managers in France thinks you do too, if you live in his country. After all, it's just downright terrible that someone would have to check their email before going to bed, hitting the gym, or taking a call at 8:30 p.m. Isn't it?
Give me a break.
I'm a big fan of work-life balance. In fact, I'm probably a bigger fan than most people, as I think one of the best ways to hire the best talent is to let your employees have a life. But this is ridiculous.
The economy is global. In fact, I am writing this column from my home in Basel, Switzerland, and if I turned off my email at 6 p.m. I'd have a heck of a time working with my clients in California. If I followed this email rule, I wouldn't have clients in California anymore, which would mean less income for me and more for somebody else. Someone, I suppose, who lives in the same time zone.
Sure, if you're working the register at the grocery store, when you're home, you're really at home. But if you're the manager of that store and have suppliers in France, how can you expect to find out what's happening if you fall off the grid after 6 p.m.? If you want to do business with Asia, forget it.
In reality, President Barack Obama is seeking a similar regulation. Recently, he demanded U.S. labor rules be revised to decrease the number of employees exempt from overtime rules. But by making the minimum salary for exempt status higher, he effectively told companies that more of their employees are banned from after hours emails and phone calls.
Again, while all of this sounds swell on the surface, the reality is that it's preventing people at the start of their careers from quickly progressing up the ladder.
Consider this: France limits its work-week to 35 hours in order to add more employees to its economy. But as of October last year, France has a 10.9 percent unemployment rate. Meanwhile, as of March this year, France's neighbor Switzerland, whose maximum work-week varies from 45 to 60 hour per week, has an unemployment rate of 3.30 percent. Clearly, restricting work doesn't have the effect politicians worry it will.
Long hours are legendary in startups, and many entrepreneurs wear them as a badge of honor. If you're running a startup, you might wish to encourage your people to put down the smartphone now and then and spend some time with their family and friends. But you have to balance that with the knowledge that working harder does get you ahead. And it's a tough world out there.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.