In 1999, French workers were awarded a 35-hour workweek. Then came the universal lure of the smartphone and poof! – French managers, customers and colleagues fell prey to the temptation to email or call 24/7. Direct reports naturally felt the obligation to respond in a timely manner, and lo an d behold, the national workweek began edging back up toward 40 hours per week.
Sound familiar? Even while French employers cried oui, oui, oui all the way to the bank, Americans felt little empathy. We are, after all, more culturally attuned to a work-life blend than a work-life balance, since the average U.S. worker clocks, on average, more than 200 hours per year than their French counterpart.
However, while we righteously accompanied the latest French whine with a bit of teeny tiny fiddle playing, unbeknownst to us, a French cultural revolution was underway. It was settled without bloodshed just this April, when it was announced that unions and employers in France came to an agreement that employees are now banned from checking work-related communications outside of work hours.
The blackout was reportedly set to begin nightly at 6 p.m. as first reported by The Guardian. However, an actual time was not established in the agreement, which will be legally binding for an estimated 250,000 French workers – including France’s Google employees.
The agreement bans employers from assigning after-hours work in defiance of the sanctioned 35-hour week while warning workers to “resist temptation to look at work-related material on their computers or smartphones” after hours.
Gasp! Didn’t see that one coming, did we? However, formally differentiating between on/off smartphone hours isn’t just fashionable with the French, nor did the trend originate there. Volkswagen has capped after-work emails for three years in Germany, programming its email server to stop delivering messages to employee smartphones 30 minutes after work, and not resuming until 30 minutes before the next day’s work schedule. Forget weekends; no emails are allowed to interfere with family time. Other German companies followed suit with their own versions of sacred employee time, including BMW, Deutsche Telekom, Eon and Henkel.
Closer to home, in Canada, Ondrack recently conducted a study into attitudes about smartphones. While a majority of professionals and managers say workloads have increased as a result of smartphone useage, most regard the change as a positive influence on their lives, saying they feel more productive. A Nanos poll echoed Ondrack’s findings, indicating more than 75% of Canadians regard smartphones as a neutral or positive factor on lifestyle.
Americans take this work tool even more personally. According to an article in The Huffington Post, “over two-thirds of [U.S.] smartphone owners say they could not ‘live without’ their devices”. The average user downloaded 36 apps in 2012, according to a study by Online Publisher’s Association – many of those downloaded onto work phones, for which users are allowed to synch via their personal iTune profiles. And yes, surveys show that we more often initiate our own check of work emails, when we aren’t using our work phones to text photos to friends. It’s apparently a trade-off we’re more comfortable making than our French friends.