Give employees a break from work

Hong Kong should take a leaf out of France’s new ‘right to disconnect’ law that allows people to ignore emails and phone calls outside of working hours

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 1:14am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 1:14am

France and Hong Kong remain far apart on work-life balance, with the former enjoying a 35-hour work week and this city being no closer to having any standard working hours at all. They got even further apart on New Year’s Day, with the beginning of a law that enshrines the legal right of French workers to ignore work-related emails outside typical working hours. The new “right to disconnect” law requires French companies with more than 50 employees to begin drawing up policies that limit work-related use of technology outside the office.

French officials hope that stemming the intrusion of work-related stress into personal time will prevent employee burnout. Former education minister and socialist lawmaker Benoit Hamon says that after leaving work people remain attached by a kind of electronic leash, exposed to text messages and emails.

French workers can now legally ignore emails from their boss after office hours

France’s 35-hour work week, however, has come under scrutiny amid record unemployment, leading to controversial reforms that weaken some strict labour regulations. The “right to disconnect” provision was packaged with the reforms as a concession to workers. It was inspired by French telecoms company Orange, whose director general Brune Mettling said the balance of private and professional life was at risk from permanent connectivity and professionals who found the right balance would perform better. In this respect, we are reminded of a survey of 400 Hong Kong employees by a recruitment consultant that found 77 per cent of respondents felt they had to take work-related calls and respond to emails even when on holiday, and almost 75 per cent said bosses expected them to be on call after work hours. The survey was conducted in 2015 but the trend it revealed is hardly likely to have been reversed.

Hong Kong bosses and unions are still struggling for consensus on standard working hours, let alone a “right to disconnect”. But for the sake of a better work-life balance and optimum performance at work, people would be sensible to take regular sustained breaks from their screens and bosses would ultimately be serving their own interests by being understanding.