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France says ‘non’ to after-hours emails. Should we do the same?

(Photo credit: Suzanne Clements/Stocksy)

It’s hard to unplug. Starting your own business often means long, erratic hours and days that look nothing like the average nine to five. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably okay with that because you’re bringing your vision to life. But as your company begins to grow and expand you can’t expect your staff to have the same blurred boundaries.

Should your boss expect you to answer emails after hours? Post-work emails are a hot topic since France amended their labour law that now gives workers the right to disconnect. While many have reported that the proposed law will punish those who send emails after 5 p.m., the language of the bill is not quite so black and white.The bill calls for “control mechanisms for the use of digital tools for the purpose of guaranteeing the respect of rest periods and vacations as well as personal and family life.” When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound so crazy.

Small business owners would have the right to define these mechanisms for themselves. For companies employing over 50 people it proposes a “charter developed following the advice of the works council.”


The proposed law reignited an international conversation about burnout that’s been ongoing over the last few years, as we rely further on digital and mobile technology and as the distinction between work and personal life becomes increasingly clouded. It’s well known that Canadians are hard workers (though how productive we are is up for debate). In 2014, one in four Canadians said they weren’t planning to use all of their paid vacation days, either to save them for a rainy day or because of fear of falling behind at the office.

And while you may not be planning to take much time off as you build your company, it’s critical for your corporate culture to allow employees to take breaks — and yes, that includes saving that 11 p.m. email until tomorrow morning. It won’t only make your employees happy, it will make them more productive.

Earlier this month, Rhonda McEwen, an assistant professor of New Media at the University of Toronto, spoke to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway about her research and findings that quality of email responses drops significantly after work hours, when people are more focused on homelife.

Harmful to creativity

Award-winning trainer on individual and corporate productivity Maura Thomas wrote for the Harvard Business Review that “after-hours emails speed up corporate cultures — and that, in turn, chips away at creativity, innovation, and true productivity.” Since creativity and innovation are pillars of new businesses, hampering those qualities in your employees by overworking them is counter-productive.

She also says those quick late-night messages that you may not even expect a response to until the morning — you know not everyone keeps the wacky hours you do — are “unintentionally chaining your employees to the office 24/7.” Being the boss means setting an example. If you’re always working, employees feel like they have to be working longer and longer hours, too.

Constant mobile usage has been found to be damaging to romantic relationships, and late-night screen time has been proven to negatively affect sleep. One email may seem like a small thing, but the effects of constant after-hour effort can build over time, drawing away focus during the actual work day.

As a business owner in Canada, where, as of now, no such work-life balance laws exist, it’s up to you to set the expectations for yourself and those you’ve employed. Your health, and the health of your business and team, rely on it.