work life balance

There was an article in yesterday’s Washington Post that outlined how it is now legal in France for you to ignore that pesky email from your boss at 10 pm.  That’s right, its now a law. Getting an email from your boss outside of your typical work hours, can now be ignored without the fear of being punished. It amazes me that in today’s society, we need laws to dictate certain common sense ideas.  While I think this is an amazing idea, I’m not sure that its going to have the effect that people are hoping.  When it comes to rules and regulations, I often find myself confronting them from obscure angles.  My mind immediately goes to how an employer can use this as a way against you.  Maybe I’m cynical, but there are horror stories almost daily that addresses discrimination of one kind or another.  So how will this be any different?  Your boss will not come out and say that you were fired because you didn’t answer his 10 pm email, but he might do something else.  Like increase your workload to a point that you can’t handle.  You could quit, but you need the job.  Instead you will get fired because of poor performance.  So how will this law even change anything?

The idea is that you can disconnect from your work life outside of typical work hours.  But what does that look like?  There are times in my job that I have to attend evening meetings or deliver training sessions.  Luckily for me, these are few and far between, but for some of my colleagues there are nights they have to stay in the office until midnight.  Do their typical work hours now extend until midnight?  Maybe I’m looking at this too literally, but I think that “typical” should be defined.  What’s typical to me, isn’t typical to another.  Also, in my industry, not everyone has a work cell phone.  Some jobs require people to be tethered to their desks.  I happen to have a work phone because I’m away from the office more than I’m there.  While this might sound like a perk to many of you (and at times it can be), it adds a level of responsibility to my job and raises the question about being able to disconnect.

computer and papers

In the past, I have spent many hours outside of my “typical” day working in an attempt to get a head or even just finish a project.  Why?  I thought that’s what responsible adults did.  I thought working from home, after hours, was just a way of life.  Obviously, you can see that I had a poor sense of what a good work-life balance was.  Was I doing this because I felt like I needed to?  As far as the work load goes, the answer to this question is no.  I likely could have put in some extra time or managed my time better and been able to accomplish those projects without bringing it home every single day.  However, my reason wasn’t exactly altruistic.  At the time, I needed a distraction.  I welcomed even work distractions.  If this sounds like you – would a law like this one actually push you to disconnect from your job, or would you find another reason to keep at it?

There are many benefits of disconnecting.  None of which I am going to get into.  What I do want to say is that I wonder if responding to your boss’s email at 10 pm does anything to get you further in your career?  I have fallen victim to this myself.  I have responded to emails as soon as I received them. Even if that’s 2 am. But I stopped doing this a while ago, and I find myself happier for it.  I think about the office less, which means that when I’m actually there, I can focus on the tasks at hand.  I can compartmentalized my personal life from my professional life, and be able to effectively get work done whether that is “house” work, or “work” work.  Either way, disconnecting gives you that perspective.

I’m happy to see a law that is forcing people to do something that they should be doing on their own, but I am not happy with the fact that it has to be done.  It shouldn’t take a law to push us to do something healthy for ourselves, such as disconnecting from our offices.  We should be able to leave and have a life.  It’s interesting to note that this doesn’t affect all industries.  Depending on what your career is, or your level within the company, you may be able to walk away and not even think twice about your job.  Lucky you!  I hope that this law will let people disconnect without any repercussions, but I worry that it might not be successful.  You may still feel the need to respond to your boss’ email, even though you don’t have to.  For the rest of the world, find a way to disconnect from the office as much as possible.  If you can’t do it every night, pick three nights of the week where you are going to let those emails go.  Turn your phone off.  Whatever you do, try to disconnect.  Disconnecting has been able to help me, and I know it can help you.

By Staff Writer

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