Are the French unplugging from The Corporate Matrix?

Since I've been asked by a good friend what to make of the recent 'post-6-P.M. e-mail ban' in France*, I may as well share my two cents with you.

This agreement between two trade unions and two business federations was signed on April 1st, but is more serious than presented in foreign media, and part of a wider re-negociation of the old "Forfait Jour" framework, a specific working hour plan for executives in fields known for abusive work hours (see Article 4.8.1 "Temps de repos et obligation de deconnection" in the 'Avenant Forfaits Jours'**). This new right to be 'disconnected' during off-work hours is limited to executives in the fields covered by the two signing federations: 

  • SYNTEC (syntec.fr): engineering, technology, IT/digital services, consulting, surveys, HR, training...
  • CINOV (cinov.fr): intellectual services in consulting, engineering, digital. 

Note that, typically, the two signing trade unions are rather progressive: the politically agnostic CFE-CGC focuses on executives, while the CFDT follows a social/christian-democratic line. France's biggest trade union, the more 'hardcore' CGT (workers, ties to the French Communist Party), refused to sign the agreement because it didn't apply to all employees in the sector. 

From now on, even in very small structures or in groups where no specific systems have been negociated yet, abused employees have something to oppose to their persecutors, and caring employers more leverage to protect overdoing workaholics (NB: 'overdoing workaholics' is not a pleonasm when you need to distinguish workhorses in your stable). 

Even with overtime, the French law imposes a minimum of 11 consecutive hours without work every day + 35 hours every week (24 consecutive hours + 11 consecutive hours). The employer, who is responsible for the health, rest, and professional-personal balance of his employees, must make sure that their daily / weekly rest periods are respected. Now employers have also the obligation to provide the possibility to 'unplug' from the company, and employees the obligation to disconnect beyond these limits ("obligation de déconnexion des outils de communication à distance"). This double obligation clearly diminishes the 'guilt factor' and burnout risks, particularly during intense consulting projects, or on startup mode. 

So yes, some companies might opt for email bans after 6 P.M. if they fancy, but such radical, one-size-fits-all solutions sound more suitable for 9-to-5 administrations than for internet start-ups.

Overall, the measure looks more preventive than punitive, a deterrent system rather than a coercive law. The text doesn't go into detail because technologies are evolving all the time, and because ultimately it's about humans living well together.

Of course, at the legal level, precedents are bound to happen, some potentially disruptive in very competitive fields... which, combined with the new 75% tax, and the projected multi-billion fine on Google, certainly wouldn't boost start-ups in France! 

But as for now, this sounds like a genuine progress. France is simply starting to adapt to our 'always on', 'smartphone slavery' times, and Germany could follow soon.

mot-bile 2014

* see for instance "Updated: The French Move To Protect Workers From After-Hours Email" (FastCompany.com - 20140410), "Mails, SMS, téléphone : Syntec reconnaît le droit des cadres à la déconnexion" (Les Echos - 20140406)
** see for instance:

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