In reading through the fall issue of HR magazine, I came across an interesting article that would seem odd to an American audience. The article focuses on France and Spain’s increased effort to decrease workplace stress by allowing employees the right to disconnect from electronic devices while not on duty. In our society, where exempt employees seem to be on the clock sometimes 24/7, this approach may be something to consider as we look at our own work-life balance.

Specifically, the article cites that the blurring of the line between work and personal time, and the accompanying stress and intrusion into home life, has prompted authorities in France and Spain to implement or consider laws requiring employers to recognize employees’ right to disconnect from workplace communications.

French policymakers, who consider off-duty email use to be a health and safety concern, adopted a right-to-disconnect law to address rising stress levels among employees that check email after hours. As of 2017, employers in France with at least 50 workers must negotiate agreements with Work Councils allowing employees to disconnect from work technology after hours. If the parties do not reach an agreement, the employer must establish a right-to-disconnect policy on after-hours technology use.

A new Spanish law calls on employers, after hearing from workers’ representatives, to set up internal policies defining for employees how to exercise the right to disconnect, including training for staff on reasonable use of technology to help avoid computer fatigue. Spain’s law emphasizes that employees working remotely are guaranteed the right to disconnect.

Personally, I think it’s great that these two countries are leading the way and are bringing the discussion to the forefront. In the US, companies might think they are getting something for nothing when employees respond to email after hours, but there is a potential price to be paid when unhappy or anxious employees either leave or become less effective, according to Bill Becker, associate professor of management at Virginia Tech. He goes on to say that US employers’ expectations that employees monitor work email during non-work hours are detrimental to the health and well-being of employees and their families, as his research uncovers.

Reading this article took me back about 14 years when I was asked to work in Chester, in the north of England. The Chester City Council expected organizations to complete a workplace stress assessment, and expected a comprehensive mitigation plan if the assessment produced an unfavorable result. While I do not recall this specific on this survey, I do recall questions pertaining to employees’ workload, relationships with management, and access to wellness care.

As we begin to delve deeper into the subjects of employee retention and employee engagement, perhaps it is a worthwhile endeavor to revisit organization expectations regarding accessing email while off-duty. It will be important not only to check what policy language exists, but equally important will be watching for behaviors exhibited by senior leadership. Employees will take a cue from what they see around and above them.

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Richard Finger
Richard Finger
Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.