In an effort to preserve some semblance of work-life balance, businesses in France with over 50 employees are now required by law to let their workers unplug when they leave work. Championed as the "right to disconnect," the new law mandates that French companies must negotiate with their employees and agree on how much work they are allowed and/or expected to do outside the workplace beyond normal business hours.

For a country with a 35-hour work week and lengthy holidays, the recent law demanding additional downtime might be fodder for late night TV satire. However, France deserves credit for addressing what is essentially a global dilemma.  The new normal of working anytime, anywhere is making many of us stressed out and miserable and, ironically, causing workers to underperform when they are actually at work.

From the CultureWizard perspective, what's really going on here is an internal cultural struggle about the identity of France. France is a cultural that views work-life balance as an essential part of their national identity. For many French people, throughout much of modern history, enjoying life and the simple pleasures of good food, wine and leisurely meals with friends and family lies at the very heart of French cultural identity. Just look at what these school kids in Lyon, France eat for lunch. French children are taught at a young age to enjoy life as much as they are taught to read and write.

Increasingly over the last two decades, as mobile technology becomes ubiquitous, we carry our work with us everywhere, via laptops, smartphones and WiFi – even in France. This onslaught of non-stop technology and constant connection to work and emails eats away at the very important leisure dimension of French culture. For many in the global workforce, technology has made many things considerably easier.  However, at the same time it has shifted many culture’s perspectives on the idea that we should be instantly and always accessible. The pressure to constantly be plugged-in to work undermines workers ability to unwind and recharge. And France is not alone in seeing this “info obesity” as a real problem. Germany, Japan, Spain and even the notoriously hard-working nation of South Korea have all taken official steps to preserve the well-being of their workers and legislate some guidelines for disconnecting from work.

In our new website courses and in-person training, RW-3 CultureWizard pays a great deal of attention to the cultural dimension of work-life balance since it can be the reason behind significant cultural missteps and misunderstandings. In many countries, a request by a foreign manager that their workers put in some extra time or work over the weekend can be a real affront, while in a country like the United States it almost goes without saying that bringing work home with you is part of the job. But who knows, as more of us continue to work remotely past normal business hours, companies and/or governments might have to step in and let us all know that it’s okay to unplug and relax a bit.

How about you out there in the global workplace, what do you think about the recent law in France? Would you like it if your company or country mandated that you’re required to have a certain number of hours away from work? How would you perform in an environment like that? We’d love hear your thoughts.

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