April 29, 2014

Put Down that Phone (or Else!)

One of my favorite work- and labor-related journalists is Lucy Mangan, a writer for The Guardian newspaper, BBC and, most recently, blogging for CollinsDictionary.com (It is a blog about words. Very funny words.) She is fabulously clever and sharp-tongued, but never misses an opportunity to make the audience laugh, even when covering serious issues. Her take on the move by French union leaders to prohibit the using mobile phones for work after punching out at the end of the day is no exception. 

You may already be familiar with notoriety of labor unions in France: they are the usual suspects when it comes to boycotts, picketing and protests in the news. Regardless of sector, they are far more influential than the unions we are accustomed to here in the United States. It is organized labor that brings about a month-long hiatus every August, when the population flees to Bali and Ibiza and tourists are left wondering who will make their baguettes. (Who me? Envious? Never!) Similarly, French employees work fewer hours than their US counterparts, enjoy drastically increased maternal and paternal benefits and many other "quality of life" perks. 

The latest jewel in the crown of French unions is an agreement to protect tech industry workers from the bane of my existence annoyance of after-hours, work-related calls and e-mails. As described by Ms. Mangan, under the terms of the agreement, "employees will also have to resist the temptation to look at work-related material on their computers or smartphones - or any other kind of malevolent intrusion into the time they have been nationally mandated to spend on whatever the French call la dolce vita." Simply put, bosses will have to limit communications strictly to the hours of 9-5. Or 10-5, or 11-5 or whenever the French normally arrive at the office. 

I tease, of course, but this new law points to important underlying questions about work-life balance. For example, to whom does time belong? Does it belong to employers, who conduct business around-the-clock in order to compete globally, increase profits and thereby, salaries? Or does it belong to employees, who cannot be expected to invest the same amount of hours as a business owner? Furthermore, how do the trends of hours worked compare to stagnant wages over time? In today's modern era, are office workers paid to be on-call, like doctors, mafia consigliore and tow-truck operators?

Just some food for thought as you see your Blackberry light up and consider answering one last e-mail from "The Man" before calling it a night.