On January 1, a new law went into effect in France, giving its citizens the right to disconnect from work in their off-hours. Yes, you read that right. It seems that work-life balance has become a lawful right for the French, and all we can think is, "lucky them." No more late-night-before-bed email checks (you do it; admit it), or filtering through a clogged inbox on a Sunday evening trying to lessen the impact of the Sunday Scaries. Essentially, the law says that all French companies with more than 50 employees must designate specific hours during which employees are not expected to be digitally on-call. Those hours would presumably be nights and weekends, but that certainly depends on the business in which the company deals. While the 50 employees rule is a pretty big exception, it's still a move in the right direction.
Explaining the rationale behind the new regulation when it was first introduced back in May 2016, Benoît Hamon, a member of the National Assembly, told the BBC, "Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash—like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails—they colonize the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down." Sound familiar? The phenomenon he's describing is what we call burnout, which is "a serious, life-altering problem because it means you either can't do your job effectively anymore or can't find any enjoyment within it," said Rob Dobrenski, Ph.D., a New York-based psychologist. If you can't enjoy your job, it's going to be a lot more challenging to enjoy your life. After all, you spend most of your time there, so why should you be working outside the office, too? (Easier said than done, we know.)
According to research, work-life balance is not only crucial to your mental health but also your physical health. In the past few years, several studies have emerged finding that how much or how little time you spend actually "off" or disconnected from work directly correlates to your health. In fact, one study found that those who work more than 55 hours per week are actually at higher risk for stroke and heart disease—not good. And let's not forget all the negative effects on your health caused by using your phone, tablet, or computer at night in hopes of catching up on work or dealing with an office-related "crisis." Turns out, those late-night damage-control sessions can seriously mess with your quality of sleep, according to a study done at the University of Pennsylvania. But if you have a work email on your phone (and these days, who doesn't?) the temptation to check it repeatedly can just be too much.
So how can you deal with this outside-of-work stress without a law (or reasonable boss)? The best thing you can do to avoid the "cognitive overload" that contributes to burnout, according to Christine Carter, Ph.D., is to "shut off your phone. Think of your energy like a full balloon. Every time you check your email, work schedule, or Twitter feed on your phone, it creates a slow leak in the balloon," she told Shape. "Eventually, you'll be completely deflated. When you power down your phone—and I mean that literally, you should actually, physically shut off your phone—you give yourself a chance to refill the balloon." Of course, the real problem lies in employers who feel justified in contacting you at all hours of the day and night, but everyone should be free to take a weekend-long digital detox or institute a "no cell phone after 10 p.m." policy. (Do you need a digital detox? Check out the first inpatient rehab facility for Internet addiction.)
Let's hope that even though this law isn't likely to influence policy in the U.S., it can at least get people talking about the fact that everyone should have the right to disconnect.