New French Law Gives Workers 'Right to Disconnect' from Email

NPR reports that as of January 1, French workers gained the legal right to disconnect from email when they leave work for the day:

Companies with more than 50 employees will be obligated to set up hours — normally during the evening and weekend — when staff are not to send or respond to emails.

…The French government said at the time that an intervention was necessary, for the health and well-being of their workers.

“All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant,” member of parliament Benoit Hamon told the BBC. “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails – they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

Experts love condemning the amount of time children spend in front of screens, but are slow to come around to addressing the fact that these kids are learning bad habits from their parents. While most parents reluctantly agree that they spend way too much time on their phones checking everything from work email to social media, very few are willing to change, often because they simply believe culture will not allow for less time online. Some parents, like writer Jordan Shapiro, simply believe that family culture needs to change to suit his family’s tech addiction. Resolving to make “video games the new dinner time” he writes:

Please forget everything you’ve been taught about the importance of family dinner. Yes, it’s true that making the time to talk to your kids—helping them learn to make meaning out of their ongoing experiences—is essential. But it doesn’t need to happen while passing peas and mashed potatoes across the table. Dinner, itself, is not essential to child development (except maybe nutritionally).

For Shapiro, there’s no better place to have a meaningful conversation about daily life than in front of a screen full of distractions. To him, dinner is a table with food, probably because he and perhaps his children sit at that table staring at their phones, an action that renders the art of conversation meaningless. No wonder Japanese kids are into dating avatars and American kids aren’t that far behind; computer-generated characters seem to be the only figures most kids make eye contact with on a regular basis.

Because we live in a culture that requires government to act as the morality police when businesses and individuals refuse to do so, France’s law happens to be a rather good one in spirit. One of the main causes of stress for parents continues to be bosses who don’t understand that healthy families make for happy employees. Unfortunately, you can’t teach parents what makes a happy family. It will be interesting to see if the government-mandated tech disconnect from work results in more family dinners, or just more video games being played around the dining room table.