Does Europe Have It Right?

Does Europe Have It Right?

By Karin Eldor


There’s a lot to admire about Europe.

And we can add the recent law banning emails outside of work hours, which just passed in France, to the list.

According to an article in The Atlantic, every country within the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Greece offers 37 days per year of paid vacation, with France and Germany rounding out the rest of Europe (with a range of 36 to 29 days). To compare with our reality, Canada offers 19 vacation days per year.

Let’s not forget the general European mentality of working to live, rather than living to work.

This, my friends, is #careergoals.


The right to disconnect

The “El Khomri” law that makes sending emails after-hours and on weekends illegal is part of Article 25, a chapter that translates to “The Adaptation of Work Rights to the Digital Era.”

Have I caught your attention?

This law exercises the human right to literally disconnect -- something we North Americans neglect to do.


What’s the impact?

This means that while working at a company with more than 50 employees, you have the right to disconnect and basically ignore emails between your company’s “off hours” (it’s up to the company to determine what those specific hours are). Symbolically, this means no pinging of cell phones while out for dinner -- a concept that’s become second nature for many of us.

It’s gotten to the point where we likely don’t even realize that we’re replying to emails right away and some of us are even developing anxiety because of our swelling inboxes. 


The other more cultural issue is that the line between our personal and professional lives are currently blurred and practically non-existent. We’re receiving emails at night, on weekends, at dawn, and on vacation. We cannot turn off our phones or ourselves, for that matter. No apologies are made for receiving conference call requests at 8pm or when an executive sends an “urgent” email on Sunday morning.



6 ways to adopt this lifestyle in Canada

So should Canada take a cue from Europe’s work policies and also ban emailing after-hours?

After all, the workaholic mentality that North Americans strive for -- and are even proud of -- is clearly not working for many of us. We are burnt out, bummed out, and looking for fulfillment by either taking sick leave, a sabbatical or simply busting out of our full-time jobs because we just can’t take it anymore.

So until this type of law passes on our side of the pond, there are baby steps we can take to live, think and work like Europeans -- and perhaps keep our burnout levels at bay in the process.


1- Be present

Yes, this is easier said than done and takes discipline. So whether you’re out with friends or home having dinner, try to put your cellphone away so you resist the urge to check your email or social media feed altogether. This kind of spatial separation will help!


2- Don’t reply to emails right away -- or altogether -- at night or on weekends

If you do happen to check your emails during your downtime, don’t reply. By replying, you’re accepting the behaviour and basically setting the expectation that you’re okay with responding. If you reverse the pattern, perhaps people will think twice about actually hitting “send” after 6pm.

Also, ask yourself if the email is urgent. You might become so attached and accustomed to replying that it becomes an automatic behaviour -- but are you actually expected to respond or are you creating this task?


3- Think twice about “reply all” (and move to BCC when possible)

Many of us are offenders of the irritating time suck that is email management. And one of the worst habits is the insidious “reply all.”

Whoever does not need to be on the continuous email thread can be moved to “BCC.” Just notify them that you’re doing so, within your email.

The more you “reply all” to a group email, the more you’re increasing the chance that you’ll get more replies, at all hours.


4- Work smarter, not harder

There’s no glory in ranting and raving about how many hours of overtime you worked or how busy you’ve been this week. Work smarter by adopting proper time management skills, so you can spend the evening watching Game of Thrones.


5- Take vacation days

Enjoying some downtime will actually make you more productive and re-energized!


6- Go on a digital detox

If you’re finding it challenging to manage all the incoming notifications you’re receiving, take a breather by completely detaching from technology.

Of course, try to do this over a weekend rather than during your regular workday.


We’ll always have Paris

The French and Europeans in general are clearly onto something. Of course some jobs require you to be “on call” at all hours of the day, but for the rest of us, it’s important to take a stand against being tied to your emails and your job.

And by saying non! to emails at all hours of the day, maybe we can all inspire change in North America too.