Should there be a law banning business emails after work?

A proposed French amendment aims to restrict digital missives outside working hours, but it remains to be seen whether that would improve work/life balance or inflict more stress.

Summer has unofficially arrived.

The air is warmer, the days are longer, and the last thing many of us want to think about while spending a Sunday dozing in a hammock is answering work email.

Though many employees don’t check their inboxes on weekends or holidays, there are plenty who do. Either way, is it the government’s responsibility to prevent work from spilling into employees’ personal lives?

This issue is sparking hot debate in light of an amendment making its way through the French legislative system. The amendment, tucked inside a labor reform bill, encourages organizations to draft policies that help employees disconnect from the workplace, such as specifying which hours employees should not receive nor be required to answer emails. There would be no penalty for violating the law; organizations are expected to voluntarily comply.

“All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant,” Benoit Hamon, a member of the French parliament, told the BBC.

“Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash—like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails—they colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.”

Many workers would agree that today’s technology makes it difficult to disconnect from work, but is passing a law the key to achieving work/life balance?

Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich, believes it’s the responsibility of company leaders to help employees balance work with their personal lives.

“People work differently. Some don’t mind responding to emails from a kid’s soccer game or while standing in line at the grocery store,” Dietrich says. “The work/life balance debate is really about how it works for each individual. It is up to leaders today to figure out the best policies that create the most productivity for their organizations. If that means no email after work hours, so be it.”

For some workers, not being able to answer email or check in with the office could actually induce stress, says Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. “The problem arises when the company expects you to respond to work requests.

“Rather than implementing an outright ban, I would like to see the focus on abuse of employees’ leisure time,” Holtz says. “An engaged employee who wants to check messages or share a thought shouldn’t be banned from doing so.”

France isn’t the only country attempting to prevent work from infiltrating personal time. Germany already has a law barring employers from contacting employees while they’re on vacation.

Will the United States follow Europeans’ lead?

Dietrich thinks it would be difficult to pass such a bill. It “seems to be different for every working professional,” she says. “Some people don’t mind the emails 24/7, while others like to have more carved-out ‘time off.'”

What do you think, Ragan readers? Should there be laws against being required to work outside normal business hours? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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