After Work Drinks, Or Emails?

There has been a lot of press recently about the French governments proposal to make it illegal for employers to contact their workers outside working hours. I have seen a variety of responses to this news, from them being called lazy by certain sectors of the UK trash media, to absolute incredulity here in the USA.

The rules in France will only effect people working in the digital and consultancy sectors for the moment, but there are calls from several areas to extend the ban to all workers. Many people complain that the advent of digital communication has meant that employees are constantly on-call, and that this has led to a collapse in real free leisure time.

I remember my father getting his first mobile phone back in the 1980’s. It sat in his car next to the steering wheel, and was about the size of an old land line phone. He did not want one, not only because it cost nearly $2000 but also because it meant that his boss could contact him while he was on the road, going to see customers, but also driving to and from work. This was the first eating away of his free time, his working day now began when he got into the car outside the house for the daily commute into Manchester, and not when he arrived. And of course it finished when he parked the car on the drive in the evening.

But how lucky he was, had he only realized what was to come! Today we really are available 24 hours a day. We live in a world where if you don’t answer your mobile phone people want to know why, and what you were doing. And of course they take it personally, because they know that you can tell who is calling. Not only might this get you into trouble, but even worse you might be “unfriended”, what a disaster that would be for your image and self respect.

I am currently in the USA, and the idea that an employee has the right to sit on the toilet in peace at 8.30 in the evening without having to respond to his or her boss is considered absurd. Discussion on the radio about the French proposal borders on the ridiculous. How can they possibly enforce it? What would this mean for our productivity? Aren’t these Europeans so quaint….

But here workers do not have many of the rights that we quaint inhabitants of the old world enjoy. If we look at maternity leave for example, women can get 12 weeks leave to look after a new born or newly adopted baby, but only if they work in a firm of 50 or more employees, maintain employment with the same business for 12 months and have accumulated at least 1,250 working hours over those 12 months. Technicalities aside this cuts out a large portion of the workforce.

Oh and I almost forgot to mention, you don’t get paid. So that cuts out many of the rest I imagine as you lose all of your salary.

And on to holidays, here is a list of statutory holidays by law by country. As you will see France is a world leader with 5 weeks paid leave, the Netherlands 4 weeks plus 9 days, and the USA? There is not statutory leave in the USA. Employees can offer any amount of holiday they wish but they are not required to give any.

So the moral of the story, in a free market competitive system governed by so-called liberal economics, workers become conditioned into being on call at all hours because it is expected of them, they face competition from their fellow workers, there is very little culture of working rights, and they could lose their job and everything else in a country with little safety net.

Interestingly enough the UK trash media claim that the French are lazy, but that the Dutch have a good work to leisure relationship. Working practices are not markedly different however, so there is a little history creeping into the reporting I feel.

William of Orange was obviously quite a popular king, or maybe it was the spice trade agreement that cemented the relationship. Either way I am looking forward to taking up residence in quaint old Utrecht in June, and enjoying some leisure time.

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Jonny Hankins

Author of the 2012 ebook "A Handbook for Responsible Innovation" (99c from Amazon), Jonny works for the Bassetti Foundation in Milan publishing articles on innovation and responsibility on their website and also blogging about his interests. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Responsible Innovation and a member of the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability.

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