This article gained some traction over the bank holiday weekend. From 1st January, workers in France will have a so-called ‘right to disconnect’. Companies with more than 50 employees will be obliged to draw up a code of conduct, expressly stating when employees are not required to answer their emails.
Now I am all for life work balance. Equally too I believe in the importance of organisations taking wellbeing at work seriously. But I am a little less convinced we should legislate for it.
Legislation and employment policy have something in common. If you need to write them, sometimes it means you have failed.
Here’s an example. I heard of a manager who had spent thousands of pounds of his budget introducing a corporate uniform for a back office team that never came face to face with customers of visitors. When I asked why, I was told that some of the employees in the team weren’t dressing appropriately for work. So instead of talking to those few people and quickly sorting a problem, a dress code was written and communicated and expensive uniforms purchased and enforced.
Going back to the French example – if people are working late into the night, if people are checking their emails excessively, if people don’t have a healthy work life balance, then this isn’t about formal documents, it’s about your organisation culture. Someone, somewhere, somehow, has said that this is expected. Or at the very least tolerated. Maybe there isn’t enough dialogue about wellbeing and balance in the organisation. Maybe there aren’t enough resources to do the job properly. But something is wrong and the starting point for addressing issues like these is rarely more policy, documents or legislation. Instead these should only ever be a last resort.
We have all worked with one of those email people. Who sends messages late at night, or at a silly time in the morning, or at the weekends. Leading to everyone else jumping onto their emails to respond. And so on.
This stuff spreads and it only takes one person to start it. The more senior they are, the bigger the problem.
I often used to work in the evenings. It suited my lifestyle, and I often found that if I went home at 5pm and let the day settle in my mind I’d have ideas or new insights whilst at home. Sometimes they came in the shower or whilst in bed waiting for sleep. Let’s face it, no one has their best ideas sitting at a desk in an open plan office. But I made a conscious choice; I would write emails and leave them in my drafts file, ready to send in the morning, when no one in my team would be disturbed.
What we need isn’t even more written documents or employment policy. Most companies have already got more than they need of that.
Legislation can help to change attitudes and beliefs. But it is not a quick route to tackling bigger issues. The Equal Pay Act tells you so. More than 40 years on from the legislation, we are still waiting to see enough change is this space.
What we really need in the workplace in simple.
Less policy. More talking.