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French Firms Tell Workers To Unplug After Hours. World Is Jealous


In France this month, hundreds of thousands of workers were told: Put the smartphone down and take a break. Sounds like a good idea. The new agreement between some companies and their employees aims to limit off the clock emails between workers or quote, "an obligation to disconnect from remote communications tools." Media around the world pounced on the announcement as another sign of the antiquated French workplace, where a 35-hour work week is still the norm. But perhaps there is a hint of envy in there somewhere.

To find out how unplugging might help French workers joie de vivre, we called up Liam Boogar in Paris. He's the editor of Rude Baguette, which is a blog that covers startups in France. Hey, Liam. So tell us who's going to be affected by this new rule. Not all French workers, right?

LIAM BOOGAR: So these are workers that have a specific type of contract that specifies the amount of days they work annually, but not the amount of hours they work per week. And France has always been a big defender of people's right to disconnect - you know, the famous 1999, 35-hour work week. And this is sort of an extension of that. It puts an imposition that says for no less than 13 hours a day, a worker should be able to disconnect from email and not answer them.

MARTIN: That sounds lovely, frankly - something that a lot of American workers might be keen on - but perhaps hard to abide by. How in the world do you go about enforcing something like this?

BOOGAR: Well, there's already a few examples outside of France of people already doing this - Volkswagen, starting back in 2011, shutting off BlackBerry service; literally, disconnecting people from their email servers after work hours. So it's not as entirely unfounded as Americans might think.

MARTIN: You cover startups and those kind of cultures, which are famous for round-the-clock schedules. Is this a sign that despite some of those stereotypes about working in France that actually, the workplace is changing; that there are more people who are taking their BlackBerrys or smartphones home with them, checking them round-the-clock?

BOOGAR: Exactly, yeah. I mean, a few years ago, you probably wouldn't have the French government looking to make sure that people weren't having to answer emails at 9, 10, 11 at night. And it's becoming more of the norm. The startup culture really has invaded France. Within the startup culture, the general reaction to this news - or this faux news - was kind of outrage because most of these people spend their nights answering email, and they spend most of their lives connected to email. And it's a bit of a misnomer to think that in France, people put down their phones at 6 p.m. or stop answering emails.

MARTIN: The French are as tied to those machines as the rest of us, apparently.

BOOGAR: No different. Just, they just have Siri in French instead of English.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Liam Boogar is the editor of the blog Rude Baguette. He covers startups in France. Thanks so much for talking with us, Liam.

BOOGAR: Yeah, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.