Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, Politics /

It is all over the press: there is a new binding agreement -some are even talking of a law, which is not the case just yet-, that says that managers of the technology and consultancy sector should switch off their professional mobile phones and not reply to professional emails after 6pm. As a result, the British press is having a field day with the ‘lazy French’, who apparently still indulge in lovely ‘5 to 7’ after work. In short, the good old cliches are back with a vengeance.

I personally believe that the situation is far more complicated that it seems. In fact, I am of two minds. The thing is, I never switch off. I am always thinking of my business. That’s just the way it is, and I don’t want anyone to boss me around about what I should and shouldn’t do, thank you very much. I can’t help thinking that it is ridiculous to have a ‘one size-fits-all’ rule like this. What if you work in a global business and have to call your New York office? It might have to happen after 6pm on a regular basis. Wouldn’t you answer an urgent call from work? Seriously? Well, nobody will want to invest in France if that’s the case, and things will continue to go from bad to worse.

Don’t get me wrong: we all need a break from work from time to time. I take one when I need one. But do we really need a binding agreement for this? I don’t think so, because each business is different. There are good times, and there are bad times. You need to be flexible during bad times. And you have global businesses. And so on, and so forth. It is a fine balance. Of course some bosses are demanding too much from their employees. But no such law can change this, right?

In short, I think that, once again, this binding agreement is clumsily drafted. I am convinced that it just intended to state the obvious: we all need a break.  I am also sure that the intentions of whoever drafted it are good. But it shows in an all-to-obvious way that France is not business-minded. It also shows that France can’t go beyond its narrow-minded parochialism. There is a world outside of France, and there is a need for flexibility within each business. Being pragmatic is simply not France’s forte, that’s pretty obvious.

The British way is very different, and, for me, it is a breath of fresh air. For instance, a year ago, things got to a head when my (then French) husband needed a second passport because his actual one was at the Chinese embassy to get a visa for a future business trip. In order to get another one, he had to go to the French consulate to explain why he needed a second passport. He managed to make an appointment, which was nothing short of a miracle, and went. There, he was given a lecture on the fact that his request needed to be adequately justified and that they needed, amongst other things, a letter of his employer detailing the reasons why he needed another passport (this had already been provided and they wanted more details!!!), and a copy of his local contract and payslips.

What? He couldn’t believe his ears. He went back to his office and called me. He said that he felt he was being watched over by the Stasi. He also added that he didn’t  want to give a copy of his contract to the French authorities. Why would he? He decided to become British shortly afterwards.

When, a year after, he was naturalised, nobody asked him any questions as to why he wanted a second British passport. He paid £25 and, the day after, a second British passport was delivered to our house. No question asked. No additional justification. You have got to love the Brits!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • It’s the Nanny State gone mad in France under the Socialists. They love sticking their legislative noses into absolutely everything. Someone probably wants to leave his/her legislative mark but choice is limited… hence dealing with minutiae.

    • I really don’t get what they want to achieve with this. I don’t get it!

  • None should be told when to do things. It’s wrong.

    • I think so too. After all, we all organise ourselves the way we want, right?

  • Well, this is only for certain unions, as I understood it… and I think it’s an excellent idea, actually.

    On the one hand, yes, business is global and time differences must be taken into account. But there’s something daunting about arriving at work first thing Monday morning, opening emails, and feeling like a slacker because your boss and coworkers have been frantically clearing THEIR to-do lists and replying to emails and giving you tasks after 6 PM on Sunday night. Or you get an email at 7 PM on Friday with a must-do project that’s got a deadline of Monday morning. “Work-life balance”? Deader than a doornail. But we all need down time, family time, creative time – and we’re not all 24/7 workaholics (even if we are, it’s not all the time and my “workaholic time” may be out of sync with yours – we probably should have limits as to when we can inflict it on each other).

    Some companies have tried this in the past, and have, I believe, been successful at implementing it – with INCREASES in productivity and improvements in real communication. I also like the rule about “no more than 3 addressees per email.” There are occasional, necessary exceptions, but the shotgun blast approach only adds to burnout and information overload.

    • Well, we will see how it is implemented. I am of two minds. We all need a break, but I don’t think that you can have the same rule for everybody. That said, I like the ‘no more than 3 addresses peremail’ rule. It makes sense (most of the time).

  • Actually it is pretty scary how easily a 2nd passport was issued… As for the after 6:00 I bet there are ALOT of spouses that would love that. But, personally I would not want it REQUIRED!

    • We did have a letter from his employers, and they didn’t need/want more…as for the 6.00 pm rule, frankly, I don’t believe it will help, but I might be wrong.

  • I agree that no employee should be expected to be on call 24 hours a day. But there has to be some other way to handle this. This whole issue reminds me of a French dinner party I went to. The topic of whether or not stores should open on Sunday or stay open past 7 came up. As an American I’m used to 24-hr stores and everything open on holidays. I admit we could take a bit of a rest with our schedule. However, I was not prepared with the vehemence with which they argued that everything must be shut up tight for “family time,” as if there were only certain days and times to enjoy that. The French really do love one-size-fits-all laws. It’s one reason I’ll only ever live there part time.

    • I don’t know who is right. That said, this lack of flexibility in France is more and more starting to annoy me. I might be becoming more British than I thought.

  • I agree with you, Muriel, on the after 6:00 rule. I do wish that people didn’t feel compelled to continue to do business well into the night, but sometimes that’s just the way it is.

    • And sometimes you really have no choice, right? It is all about being flexible, in my view.

  • While the thought behind switching off is good one. Broad rules bring about a multitude of exceptions. And a law? That’s just ridiculous.

    • That’s exactly my view. We all need a break, but there is no one-size-fits-all.