French say 'non' to work email after 6 p.m.

A new labor agreement requires French workers not to respond to any work-related emails -- even if on their phones -- in the evening. Civilized?

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Parisian cafes are really rather nice. SoniaTravels/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

One of the more painful ads of the 21st century was one perpetrated recently by Cadillac.

Purporting to sell its ELR vehicle, it featured a big-mouthed American corporate type lauding the American way of work-work-work, and contrasting it with foreigners' alleged culture of shirk-shirk-shirk.

"Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the cafe, they take August off," says the hero. He adds that if you only take a two-week vacation, you can have a fine automobile like the Cadiallac ELR.

He then adds: "N'est-ce pas?" And that's when you know he was sneering at the French all along.

Oddly enough, having been to France, I noted that the locals do drive nice cars. They also enjoy very passable wine and an exalted sense of style lacking in certain other parts of the world.

Now, they also enjoy the luxury of not taking work calls and messages after 6 p.m.

As the Guardian reports, unions and employers have reached an agreement whose terms require workers to ignore anything work-related after office hours. These are generally accepted to be between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

This cultured agreement relates to more than 1 million people in the technology and consultancy sectors, who were being bombarded by hectoring (and possibly inebriated) bosses late into the night.

Have these people no respect for the need to enjoy one's glass of Bordeaux? Do they not realize that the taste of a fine Gruyere can be ruined by a message demanding a report by the morning?

The BBC reported that the chairman of France's General Confederation of Managers, Michel de La Force, said that digital communication after 6 p.m. would only be allowed in "exceptional circumstances."

I have a feeling that such rules may not be adhered to as much as proponents might think. However, there's a certain truth to the idea that American corporate principles -- those that assume work always comes first -- have seeped into other cultures.

It helps, of course, when America owns so many of the world's companies.

How often at parties are you asked "What do you do?" before anyone wonders what your name might be? How many times are you on vacation and discover that panicky work e-mails are puncturing your time on the beach?

And when you're out to dinner, do you place your phone on the table in the hope of a Tinder match, or for fear that the burning embers of a tough day at work will reignite when the boss comes back from his, um, conference?

Laugh at the French all you wish (the French do it quite a lot), but at least someone is thinking about life as being something that extends beyond the world according to Wall Street.