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April 14, 2014

France Makes Move to Limit Work Email and Phone Calls After Hours

Those lucky French workers.

You could just see the collective smirk – coupled with envy – on the faces of American workers over the weekend, in response to a French proposal allowing some technology workers to sign off from emails and smartphones after 6 p.m.

It seems like a dream; limiting after-hours work time and late-night requests from the boss so dramatically. And we all know France is the butt of many jokes when it comes to its seemingly lax worker rules, including a 35-hour work week and generous vacation time.

For now, the French proposal awaits government approval. And even if the measure passes, it’s just advisory. The pact allows a segment of technology workers to turn off if they want to, but it’s not required.

Yet before executive leaders here quickly dismiss the French as a bunch of loafers, they may want to take note: Many recent studies indicate that the always on, 24/7 workplace culture that much of the global workforce experiences today can take a serious toll on many workers, even the most dedicated staff.

A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review found that the average executive or manager logs 72 hours in an average work week, in large part due to the ability to connect online at any time of day.

And while some observers see the French approach – more government regulation – as a poor way to bring change, progressive companies are looking harder at a work-life balance that keeps employees engaged and productive. The Wall Street Journal reported that several major banks, including Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase now have rules encouraging or requiring junior staffers to take time off on weekends.

Some studies show that those workplace changes aren’t just about making employees happy, they also contribute significantly to the company’s overall productivity.

Our own experience also shows that employee engagement clearly pays off over time, in productivity levels as well as with overall financial performance.

In other words, burned out workers glued to their emails all night is no joke.

What do you think of France’s move to limit after hours work?

- David Grossman

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