On January 1, 2017, it became ‘legal’ for French workers to ignore online communications from their employer when those communications were sent during non-work hours. Meaning if your normal work day was 9 am to 6 pm, any communication sent outside of those times can legally be ignored and the employer has no recourse:
With the implementation of this law, the country aims to tackle the problem of the so-called ‘always-on’ work culture by giving employees the ‘right to disconnect.’
While the new law stipulates that employers sort out viable ways to avoid the intrusion of work matters into the private lives of employees, for now the ‘right to disconnect’ foresees no penalties for companies that fail to reach such agreement with workers.
In such cases, employers will be required to “publish a charter that would make explicit the demands on, and rights of, employees out-of-hours,”
While this is currently only the law in France, we know eventually we’ll see this type of legislation begin to creep into many other countries as well. Currently, most American companies have more of an ‘always on’ concept of work communication response culture. Meaning, if I send you a note, whenever I send you a note, I expect a reply when you see it.
Of course, there are organizations and leaders who have taken the opposite stance on this, but those are really few and far between. Those organizations understand the importance of balance between work and your personal life. The problem comes into play as we give our employees more and more flexibility in their work schedule, we also expect more flexibility in how we communicate with them as employers.
That’s the one issue I see with the French law. The French are still working under a very traditional style of work. You go to an office. You do work. You go home. In America, and many other countries, that type of work culture is no longer the norm. So much flexibility has been added into employees working schedule that traditional communication rules of when and how become very difficult to manage, and quite frankly even employees wouldn’t want those rule.
So, should you have after-hours work communication rules? If so, what should those rules be? Here are mine:
1. Salaried employees, with flexibility in their schedule, in leadership roles, need to be available 24/7/365. You might disagree with this, but at a certain level in organizations, you are always available. The one caveat to this is when you have something personal, or an emergency issue, and have set up a communication plan where another leader is covering for you and taking on your responsibility.
2. Sales pros and leaders must respond to clients in an expected manner when there is a client issue. “Expected” then becomes a negotiated stance with your clients. So, if your clients expects an immediate reply, you should reply immediately. If you’ve negotiated twenty-four hours, then you reply within twenty-four hours. The point being, negotiate communication expectations up front, not when there’s a problem for the first time!
3. Employees are expected to communicate to their leaders about a known issue that could have a drastic impact the organization immediately. After-hours, during work hours, anytime. Salaried, hourly, temporary, etc. If there’s a problem, let someone know. I don’t hold you responsible for taking care of it, but I do hold you responsible for letting someone know.
4. Don’t be a hero. If you’re at your daughter’s school play, don’t leave to answer a phone call just because you see it’s a work number. Let it go to voicemail and return the call, if needed, after the play is done. Don’t return an email message immediately on Saturday night of something that can easily wait until Monday morning. Just because someone else decided to work on Saturday evening doesn’t mean you are expected to work Saturday evening. It might just be that time worked well for them.
5. Don’t expect others to have your bad habits. Just because you love responding to email at 3 am does not mean others will love doing the same thing, and you believing they should makes you look like a terrorist.
What are your after-hours work communication rules?