You will have heard of the French law, in force since earlier this week, which gives workers the right to “disconnect”. Out-of-hours e-mails – apparent source of problems from stress and burn-out to sleeplessness and, for all I know, toothache – are to be legally limited, if not banned outright in businesses with more than 50 employees. This, it is said, will give staff the possibility to turn off rather than do what amounts to unpaid overtime.
Well, yes. I can sense the tsunami of sympathy sweeping over from Britain already. So … our workshy cross-Channel chums have devised another wheeze to chalk up victory to the sybaritic soft-life. If they’re not on strike, they’re on holiday, and if they’re not on holiday, they’re now switching off their Smart-phones lest, six courses in, dinner be disturbed before dessert is done.
And you’d have a point. Imbued with the sans-culottes spirit of 1789 – one which holds that protest is good of itself – the French strike first and talk only (much) later, leaving you seething on the platform, at the departure gate, or the bottom of the Eiffel Tower. Then again, right now is possibly not the very best time for Britons to comment adversely on strikes in (what used to be) the public sector. Not if you’re not travelling on Southern Rail, anyway.
Holiday-wise, anecdotal evidence suggests the French have about the same as the British – around five weeks, among my friends. (And, when they do take them, even the younger ones don’t rage off wrecking resorts in Greece and Mallorca. So perhaps they should have more and we should have less.) Granted they favour numerous Bank Holidays – but, if a Bank Holiday falls on a weekend, as Christmas and New Year did recently, that’s it. There’s no compensatory day off the following Monday. Back to work, Jean-Claude.
The countries with the most public holidays
And when he is back at his job, Jean-Claude probably works slightly less long than most other Europeans if he’s a salaried employee, rather longer if he’s non-salaried artisan, tradesmen or other independent. (The figures are slippery but that seems about right.) That’s why you may go shopping, or get professional appointments, in France through to 7pm and beyond. One of the most dispiriting things about a trip back to Blighty is the closing down of almost everything by 5.30pm. You perhaps shouldn’t talk about French idleness when you can’t buy a pair of shoes in Shrewsbury at 5.40pm.
And, whether or not he works longer, he certainly works harder. The French worker’s productivity is superior to almost every other European’s – including that of Britons and Germans. The statistics are unambiguous. So general comments about the Gallic taste for doing sweet FA need nuance, at least.
In this context, the French work-force might seem justified in demanding to be left alone at home: no after-hours e-mails. They’ve done quite enough, thankyou. Except that legislation for same is missing the point, respecting the French tradition of empty, virtue-signalling gestures. What is needed is not so much a law to stop enterprises sending out mails as one to stop employees opening and reading them. No-one on God’s earth can resist the ping of his or her phone. It makes them feel important, in touch, altogether necessary. Deprive them of this and burn-out and sleeplessness will not diminish but multiply, quite horribly. That’s the way the world now is, and no law will change it.