Great Idea: A law giving right to disconnect during personal time

France has just put a new law into effect that gives employees the right to disconnect from emails in evenings and non-work days. The New York Times on January 3 quotes French minister of labor, Myriam El Khomri, as explaining that, “Employees are more and more connected during hours outside of the office (so that) the boundary between professional and personal life has become tenuous.”

The law recognizes the importance of personal time with family and friends, free from after hour invasions from work, and also seeks to reduce employee burnout. The law doesn’t prohibit all after hour emails, but requires managers and employees to set times when replies to emails are not expected, such as between 7PM and 7AM, as well as on holidays and days off work. Several other policy suggestions are recommended that reduce the shear number of messages sent out.

We’ve been grappling with these issues since the internet first took hold in the mid to late1990s. James Gleick was one of the first to explore the problems in his intriguing 1999 book, “Faster.” (Still worth a read!) In it, he discusses the impact of having everything running faster than ever before in human history and how all the new time saving devices and the rapid exchange of information makes us feel even more rushed. He also talks about the enormous toll taken on us when we are always connected, denied private time and denied the possibility of just turing off because the demands of internet technology invade our personal space. We soon realized those demands also intrude on the quality and time available for parents and children to interact in real time.

The new French law is a welcome step toward acknowledging and attending to some basic human needs. It also brings some vital benefits to children, with the hope of more undistracted face-to-face time with their parents. Whether or not it would be feasible for the United States to consider similar legislation, it provides a great opening for employees and businesses to discuss policies that honor the need to differentiate between work and private time, for the benefit of everyone.

Whether you are a manager or an employee, this offers a terrific opportunity to initiate discussions about creating suitable “private time” policies at your workplace.

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