An interesting ethical workplace argument is developing France and before we start to say, “Oh, the French,” they may well have a valid point to be made – and it may come to our shores before too long. The French issue raises an interesting business ethics question.
The French Ministry of Labor has just passed a new labor law. It has given workers the right to disconnect from their office email after hours. It includes email, mobile devices, tablets and anything else that connects workers to their workplace. Disconnect? What? Can this be good for workers and when it comes to business ethics whose welfare should rule?
The French, maybe more than most, believe that from a business ethics perspective there must be a separation between “work” and “life.” This new law will not apply to every situation, as initially the company must have at least 50 employees.
Now obviously, there are times when the laws will not be practical for example, a hospital might need to get hold of a doctor at any hour or an international brokerage house may need to have their trader’s trade stocks, during hours that may differ from the rest of the company. In these cases, the organizations can have a signed agreement, or a charter to regulate when an employee can get a break from office intrusion.
Business Ethics and Employee health
The French are very concerned about employee health. They feel that especially with the advent of the internet, email, texting and social media, employees are being forced to work outside of the expected work day. Separation between work and nonwork life – from a business ethics perspective does this make sense?
Do they have a reasonable argument? Many in France believe they do. Some companies actually ban employees from using work email after hours, while other companies completely shut down the email systems at the close of business.
This leads to an interesting set of ethical questions. Americans pride themselves on “being tough.” We will perform company work at all hours, including on weekends and at night, and we think that’s fine. It is true that Americans have shorter vacations than in many other nations and less time off, overall. We have poor medical benefits in comparison to many countries.
Are we being too tough? Have we become “so tough” that we have become “calloused?” By calloused, I wonder if some of us aren’t like the frog who jumps into the pot that is slowly heated up to almost boiling, rather than the frog who accidentally jumps into the hot water and immediately jumps out.
Are we being too over-worked and disconnected from our personal lives because of workplace intrusion? It is a reasonable argument to make.
Ethically, is it time for companies to start to consider the work and life balance? The power and the effect of the unions on worker health and safety has been reduced over the past decades. What then will take the union’s place?
Decades ago, of course, worker safety usually meant rules and regulations around dangerous machinery or fumes or harsh chemicals – things such as that. Now we are increasingly dealing with workplace stress and the demands made on workers.
Should a marketing manager, for example, be expected to answer emails during his kid’s baseball game? Should an accounts payable clerk be asked to always be available to receive telephone calls after work?
This leads me to asking if it isn’t time for organizations to look into the work and life balance, or to at least put agreements into place that limit, in writing, the amount of inter-connectedness (emails, texts, etc.) that the employer can have with the employee.
I believe these are ethical arguments, best handled by a third party consultant to open up the discussion in an equal and unencumbered manner; a discussion that allows for different points of view and different perspectives.
In our “toughness” to produce and to always be available, are employers purposely affecting employee health and wellness? If an employee intentionally turns off the mobile device or computer after hours, is he or she denigrated by their employer?
Suppose, finally, it is found that the constant stress to be “connected” really does shorten life? What then, will be the ethical fallout?
Though the French are often characterized as maddening, in this instance they may be leading all of us to greater wellness.Bu