When the bell goes

And so France, the only bastion of the strictly coded 35-hour week on the planet, has now seen an agreement reached between bosses and unions representing a million to create a legally enforceable prohibition on workers being contacted after they have left the office. The unions will be measuring their members’ “digital working time” to ensure that the measure is upheld.

The “work isn’t somewhere we go” hipsterati will be spilling their lattes down their J-Brands over this devastating news. Were this to be applied to our own reality, one of the fattest worms in the newly-opened can is the realisation that suddenly the working day has to be long enough. In evaluating our ability to deliver on what is expected of us, we will have to adjust to considering that e-mailing after the bell has rung and we have put our chairs on our tables will no longer be a means of supplementing our 9-5 (with an hour for lunch).

And so we might look at our working day with a more healthy appreciation of the precious time it houses. We may consider the multitude of W1A-style meetings we feel compelled to organise and attend.  We may value our interactions, and ensure we listen carefully first time. We may consider the requests we make of others, and better manage our expectations of their performance.

And as France is 13th in the WHO life expectancy table, ahead of the UK in a stressed-out 29th, we could probably afford to work a few more years to make up for the absence of intrusion into our dusk.

No-one would doubt that this digital erosion of our “personal” time has been damaging, in however small a way. But the fact that it now appears to require legally enforceable measures and formal monitoring to control is itself a sad indictment.

Fat worms are the most desirable to the oiseuax on the lawn, and will inevitably be devoured. However the news will have inevitably dared many to imagine being properly permitted to ignore after-hours e-mails with a clear conscience, even a moral clarity. If it does no more than make us re-evaluate the degree to which we allow ourselves to be digitally consumed, it will have been worth the headlines.

Because the nub is that with their shorter working week, the French are also more productive than we are in the UK. At 5pm today, go home and think about that.


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