Consider a world without off-the-clock school and work emails: where leisure time is strictly leisure time, and relaxing is valued far above working. That sounds pretty nice. What if this utopia was government mandated? Would it still be a utopia, or does hearing “government mandated” send your mind straight to thoughts of, “The government can’t tell me whether I can or can’t send emails! It’s my right to read work emails whenever I want!”? If those thoughts crossed your mind, you may be living in the United States.
The French are taking on the task. An agreement on an “obligation to disconnect from remote communications tools” is about to appear before the French Labor Ministry for approval.
The accord, signed this month by Labor unions and corporate representatives in France, requires that employers make sure that the entire 11 hours of daily rest time, to which all workers are entitled, is to be spent uninterrupted by texts and emails. This is not a mere show of French indolence, either. Last year, the German Labor Ministry told its employers not to contact employees outside of their work schedule. Sweden is considering a 6-hour work day.
Such laws would never be instated in this country. For one, Americans like to extend the umbrella of natural rights to anything that could be infringed on by the government in any way whatsoever. Undoubtedly a “right to email” would show up in statements against a law like the one the French are proposing.
Perhaps more surprisingly to other countries, studies show that the majority of Americans enjoy working. If they don’t necessarily enjoy it, they at least want to work. American sociologist Archie Russell Hochschild discussed in his book, The Time Bind, that when a large group of employees were offered part-time, they refused. One’s position in the economic spectrum of the middle class correlates to the amount of time spent at work rather than home, with longer-working individuals reflecting a more high-powered and successful career. A scene in "The Company Men", a movie about the Great Recession, depicts a recently unemployed character not wanting his car to be seen in the driveway during the day by his neighbors. More time at work for the middle class means less time dilly-dallying––even if this is what you actually spend time doing at work––what the French would refer to as relaxation time.
It is not fair to accuse the French of having a more restful culture than Americans, Britons or Japanese. After all, isn’t being able to enjoy one’s family and life why we are headed into the workforce in the first place? Having time to take it all in is a goal we are all told to aspire to. However, a fast-paced life does not indicate any less happiness than a slow-paced one. Being busy, whether in the work force or outside of it, feels good. A full schedule and power brunches with coworkers are both signs of energy and worth. Upward mobility and pay are promising goals. A mandate to not respond to or send off-the-clock work emails might stunt our endeavor to be successful.
While the initiatives taken by France and other European countries are in keeping with their cultures’ values and traditions, such measures would be inappropriate for this country. Americans love French culture. But when it comes to our jobs, we finish the croissants in the car and get to work out of ambition as much as necessity.