The Right to Disconnect

at 10:43 PM

First, it was all that vacation time.

Then, the 35-hour work week.

Now, the French have established "the right to disconnect."

Yes, a new law requires that employers negotiate with their employees on when they can send them emails. After 7 pm? No, no, that's too late! I've already started my aperitif!

Coming from Silicon Valley, as I do, at first this sounded crazy. After all, around here we joke that "flexible working hours" means "you can put in your 18-hour day whenever you'd like." We're inventing the future: we don't have time for vacations.

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But then I reflected on the years I spent as an ex-pat working in Switzerland. Work there was confined to the regular workweek and only rarely spilled over to the weekend. More than that, stores closed at noon on Saturday and didn't open again until Monday.

This was really annoying at first. My wife and I worked all week, which meant we had to cram our shopping into Saturday morning. What a pain. But eventually we came to appreciate everything being closed. We couldn't shop. We couldn't run errands. We had to take a break.

Over time we settled in and learned to do what everyone else did -- enjoyed the weekend as a time for family and friends, a time for hikes in the mountains and lunches in the garden.

Living in Switzerland was wildly different from what we were used to in Silicon Valley. People worked hard just like at home, but life was somehow... less hectic.

Work wasn’t the be-all and end-all: my wife was once eating a sandwich at her desk when a colleague came by and lectured her on the importance of taking a proper lunch break. And everyone took all their vacation days: not to do so was considered unhealthy.

And yet, the Swiss economy is the envy of the world. And productivity, a key measure of economic health, is higher in France than in Germany or Japan.

So maybe those lazy French are on to something: time away from work can actually be good for you and good for the economy.

With a Perspective, I'm Keith Van Sickle.

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Keith Van Sickle is a tech executive and author who splits his time between Silicon Valley and France.

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