French government pushing to ban after-hours email

Knock, knock. You open the front door to be greeted by two police officers.

"How can I help you?"

"Are you (insert your name here)?"

"Um, yes," is your feeble retort.

"Can you accompany us to the station, we are led to believe you have breached your workplace email policy and sent an email to your colleague Toni at 7pm last night. You have the right to one phone call …"

The electronic leash

The above example is fictitious, but if a workforce reform bill is passed in France this could be closer to fact than fiction. The proposed bill suggests companies with more than 50 employees draft policies to minimise the way work (specifically email) is eroding time spent with families and loved ones. Eroding time spent engaging in that thing called 'life outside of work' that more and more people are finding harder to define.

Benoit Hamon of the French National Assembly told the BBC: "There is far more work-related stress today than there used to be. 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 colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down."

Mail trail

Now whether the bill is passed or not, it raises an interesting question: have we reached such a ridiculous phase of electronic connectivity that governments need to step in and control our behaviour?

In days gone by, companies had a mailroom where the mail (envelopes and packages back then) was delivered once a day. Mail to be sent was put in the mail tray, and gathered once a day. That was it. Simple and uncomplicated.


Reflect on how we approach 'mail' today. You wake up and immediately check social media – Instagram, LinkedIn, FaceBook, Snapchat and Twitter. Then another 'mail room' to check your online dating profile. Quick flick to email and the stream of (mostly unimportant) messages that have cascaded in overnight. Then your favourite RSS feeds, webpages and news rooms.

Good sports

No wonder when asked how they are going these days, the average worker responds with a litany of words including "fatigued, frenetic, fast-paced, fractured and fried".

Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Australian Olympic Committee CEO Fiona de Jong present at a lunch at KPMG. Her committee's goal for the Aussie Olympic team in Rio 2016 is, "to be the most respected team".

Fiona and the AOC want people to be talking about athletes being great people, not just being good at sport. Well-rounded individuals have a life outside sport – just as business people should have a life outside business.

Five ways to avoid email arrest

Whether this bill is passed or not, there are a number of proven ways to put some slack in the email leash including.

1. Turn off your pop-up alert

Just trust me on this one and turn it off, now. Pull rather than push.

2. Stop playing email tennis

After more than two or three emails and you're still not sure, talk to people. Email is not a conversation. Email was designed to be a form of asynchronous communication. Keep it that way.

3. Create e-rules

To = for you, CC = FYI. Get rid of Reply All and BCC.

4. Chunk checking times

Batch email together and aim for two or three blocks during the day (being a great emailer is not in your job description).

5. Keep it short

I love emails of five bullet point or five short sentences.

If we can get business leaders to adopt these new rules, it will go a long way to changing the crazy culture of expectation we have around email immediacy. As a knowledge worker your job is to think, to make decisions, to plan, to strategise, to communicate, to engage and to lead. Email is, and should go back to being, a communication tool.

Should businesses introduce rules around when we do and don't send email? Would it work? Let us know in the Comments section.

Workplace performance expert Andrew May is a Partner at KPMG Performance Clinic, a best-selling author and keynote speaker. He has spent the past 20 years helping business leaders and their teams improve performance, productivity and wellbeing.

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