Americans love to genuflect before the altar of pragmatism, according to the cliche. The French, allegedly our temperamental opposites, are said to eschew the pragmatic in favor of a theory for everything. Like all stereotypes, there’s an element of truth to both. The latest example of the difference between a French worldview and an Anglo-American one is a law that has just taken effect in France that allows workers to draw the line on employers’ demands after hours.
Because of the law, employers don’t have carte blanche to intrude on their employees’ time after work with their families or expect them to work holidays, during their vacations or on the weekends.
This new law has been referred to as the “right to disconnect,” but it really boils down to one basic theory about labor according to the French: It should not be necessary for citizens to work all of the time.
Where Americans pride themselves on being available to their employers 24/7 via cell phones and computers, French workers consider this an unacceptable blurring of professional and personal boundaries.
The new law doesn’t completely ban work-related emails after hours, but it makes clear that employers are supposed to come to a mutually beneficial understanding with their employees about how to deal with them.
For the French, this law works. It would be much more problematic in the American workplace. Americans are among the most productive workers on the planet because they are available beyond the prescribed work hours.
To an American who works between 45 and 50 hours a week, this law reeks of the Nanny State sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong. So let the French have their uninterrupted down time. Americans thrive on being eternally connected to the job during a never-ending, ever-expanding workday.