UPDATE: Buzzfeed and Slate are now claiming that the Guardian report cited in this post was incorrect in its claims that the law affects 1 million employees - the new number being thrown around is 250,000 - and that the agreement doesn't enforce a 6 p.m. deadline or any specific time at all. As Buzzfeed speculated, that specific 6 p.m. time was likely an assumption based on the French labor law's limit to a 35-hour work week, which forces many to end their work day at 6 p.m.
This is still among the first legal actions taken to protect employees from the natural increase in working hours that has resulted from growing use of smartphones and tablets.
In response to a trend that has affected anyone with the ability to check email on their phones, the French government has signed a labor agreement prohibiting employees from responding to work messages on their personal phones after 6 p.m. Companies where employees feel pressured to work after that hour could find themselves at the wrong end of a lawsuit.
According to the Guardian, the agreement is the result of ongoing pressure from labor groups to enforce a 1999 law limiting the national work week to 35 hours, which many companies have encroached by leveraging at-home use of smartphones and tablets to reach employees during off hours.
The agreement will impact an estimated 1 million employees in France, including those at the Google, Facebook, Deloitte, and PricewaterhouseCoopers offices in the country, according to the Guardian. It’ll be interesting to see how employees and managers at these competitive, global companies adhere to the agreement, if at all. How likely are Facebook and Google employees to ignore emails and phone calls when their U.S. co-workers report problems at times that violate the agreement just because of a time difference?
The impact on smartphones and mobile web access on employees has been the subject of a lot of research over the past five years. While mobility allows employees to work remotely and create a more flexible on their own schedule, research shows that it has extended the average user’s work day, in some cases by as much as two hours per day.
The longer work day, however, doesn’t necessarily mean more work is getting done. Recent studies found that using a smartphone or tablet for work after 9 p.m. causes sleep issues, resulting mental fatigue and difficulty concentrating the following day. In fact, the researchers behind these studies actually suggested enacting similar policies to what was made a nationwide requirement in France:
Our study adds to a pile of scientific evidence that managers must begin to acknowledge in their work. There are downsides to having employees use smartphones – direct ones for the employees, and less direct but still troubling ones for workplaces. Smart managers will look for creative ways to minimize the problems without giving up the mutual benefits of smartphones.
Who would have thought someone would actually listen?