Over the weekend several leading international newspapers reported that France had implemented rules to ban traditional 9am–5pm workers from checking their phones and computers for work emails after 6pm.
It turns out that the rule changes were misrepresented in the media, and that the rule implemented in France is, in fact, targeted at protecting workers’ right to not answer an email, or undertake work, in their personal time. The rule means that if an email received outside of working hours isn’t responded to until the following morning during work hours, the company can’t consider it professional misconduct.
France is one of the few countries in the world which continues to empower workers to work fewer hours and to enjoy more personal time. France famously legislated a 35-hour workweek for most employees, to guarantee them plenty of off-the-clock-time. This strategy has resulted in France’s workers being ranked among the most productive in the world.
According to Tony Schwartz of the New York Times, a new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal – including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations – boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.
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Undoubtedly one of the most forward-thinking nations in the world, instead of adopting and embracing a ‘the harder and longer you work, the more you will achieve’ approach, France has instead opted to decrease the numbers of hours worked across the nation.
Recent research has shown the benefits of working shorter work days, taking longer uninterrupted vacations, having naps and sleeping longer hours, with each of these factors contributing significantly to productivity in the workplace.
A recent study, undertaken by researcher Cheri D. Mah, showed that basketball players who slept 10 hours per night increased their three-point shooting and free-throw percentages by a staggering nine per cent on average. On the flip side, in a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping less than six hours per night was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out.
There has been a downward shift since the early 90s worldwide in OECD nations in the number of hours worked per year (excluding Israel, which saw a slight increase). But is focusing on working fewer hours the key? It seems that the more flexible an employer becomes going forward, the better the results will be. Take a quick look at Google. For the 20-something looking to create a career, Google is seen as the market leader for employment. They have a fun setup (their Sydney office has a swing hanging from the ceiling in their reception), have masseurs on-site for employees who are feeling stressed and even allocate a portion of each employee’s time to personal projects. If you believe the rumours in the news that the retirement age will be rising to 70 in the coming years, then we can only hope more flexible conditions are adopted all across Australia to ensure the traditional worker of Australia is still able to work at 69.
What do you think? Could Australia learn something from the rules France has adopted? Should work emails be restricted to work hours only? Would a 35-hour work week increase productivity in Australia?