Autoresponder: "Thank You for Your Email, But You Are Breaking the Law" Could France's move to make it illegal to email or expect response outside office hours actually be damaging businesses?

By Paul Farnell

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We are all familiar with the distant "ping" during dinner. The chronic refresh while at a stoplight. The instinctive glance during family movie night. These actions are now ingrained in a typical work day. But in France, they might be taking a different stance. The French lower parliamentary house recently passed a proposal to ban after-hours emails. A bold idea that gets to the core of work life balance -- when a culture intended to be flexible, instead transforms into a 24/7 work-athon, and even vacation days aren't safe from the endless inbox. That said, however well intentioned the email ban is, it simply doesn't reflect the realities of how "remote first" and global businesses need to operate.

While surely well-intentioned, a widely adopted after-hours email ban, like that proposed in France, would severely damage our business. Instead of time-bound bans, companies that are online 24/7 need to create a culture of reasonable work hours and expectations. And back it with tools and processes that stick.

Take control of global time-shifting:

When you're a global organization, you're going to have some time-shifting. Make a clear decision about whether employees working in different time zones are there to create better coverage for customer service and other operations or if they need to align their working hours to the business' standard work day. Employees should largely be assigned to one or the other and not be expected to accomplish both.

De-urgentize email:

The key to dealing with after-hour emails is respect and empowerment. Email is an asynchronous form of communication, and you need to create a culture where email is not an urgent channel of communication. If communication is urgent, then use another form of communication such as making a phone call or sending a text. Email should be a form you're not meant to respond to quickly, especially if you're not working. If it was urgent, you'd call—and if you wouldn't call because of the time of day, then you shouldn't expect a response if you emailed instead.

Let technology help you

Technology is typically thought of as the thing that's forcing us to be constantly connected, but it can also help us disconnect. Encourage employees to use features that put a stop to the endless ding of emails and tasks. Slack offers "do not disturb" hours, Basecamp has "working hours," and smartphones offer options to limit or eliminate notifications of new emails. Through simple measures such as uninstalling Slack on employees' phones, balance becomes easier.

Live the benefits:

Putting email in its place produces massive benefits for employees. Flexible hours become a real part of your culture. Unexpected events like health issues or an employee's need to take care of a family member become manageable situations.

While France's desire to protect employees may be well intentioned, this after-hour email ban is misguided and would ultimately punish companies that offer their workers ultimate flexibility. Companies strive to preserve aspects of their European heritage in many of the ways that they do business. Much of this is grounded in giving employees a break between work and their life. These include setting up processes around time shifting and a culture that workdays have an end, combined with benefits such as 28 days of paid vacation, paid holidays, and a week-long holiday break.

When employees get past balancing work and life and instead think about how to enjoy both, they are happier and more loyal.

Paul Farnell

Contributory Author

Paul Farnell founded Litmus in 2005 and is the Chief Executive Officer. Today, Litmus is the leading web-based email creation, testing, and analytics company. Prior to Litmus, Paul founded Salted, a small web design company that specialized in blog and user interface design. 

Paul is originally from Edinburgh, Scotland and moved to the United States six years ago. He presently resides in San Francisco. 

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