There are a lot of things I love about France – the champagne, the croissants, the language – but now this romantic country has given me another reason to be jealous.
They’ve just mandated a new labour agreement which states all employees must switch off after 6pm.
Yep, it’s now illegal (sort of) to work after 6pm in France. While employees can stay in the office and work if they wish, the new agreement states staff who leave the office are required to ignore work emails in order to have a solid 11 hours of “rest time” away from the office. Oh, mon dieu, it’s so unfair.
But we all know France is a country that understands the importance of work-life balance. In 1999, the country implemented the 35-hour work week and it also has some of the best parental leave and annual leave policies in the world.
Sure, the economy isn’t doing great (perhaps it’s because no one works after 6pm?) but I can’t help but think Singapore could benefit from some kind of mandate like this.
I have always advocated that working past 6.30pm is a waste of time. Of course there are times you need to be in the office and contactable, but ever since I started switching off and working more efficiently to be able to walk out the door at 6.30pm I have been a happier, more well-rounded person.
I definitely haven’t beat the stress monster, but stress and burnouts is something Singapore urgently needs to address.
According to this survey, 67% of Singaporeans have health issues related to stress caused by work. Even local bosses are trying to combat stress in the office by providing more stress awareness campaigns and offering flexible working options.
The slow shift towards acceptance of flexible working is a great thing, but in my opinion, Singapore still has a long way to go. Multi-national companies with headquarters in Singapore lead the way when it comes to flexi-hours, but most local organisations are still uncomfortable with the idea of not clocking in and clocking out at a mandated time.
Culturally, it is still expected in Singapore – and many parts of Asia – that employees work as late as the boss does. I have friends in Singapore who regularly clock off at 11pm like it’s no big deal.
But let me say this – it IS a big deal, and Singapore needs to care about this more.
I’m not saying a law about working late is needed (truthfully, I think it’s going to be extremely difficult to police in France and I don’t think it would ever fly in Singapore where so many companies need to be connected with offices in other time zones) but encouraging an entire nation to become accustom to putting work before many other parts of their lives is dangerous.
Especially in a country which desperately needs things like babies (you can’t make them while you’re working late) and higher productivity (I don’t know about you, but if I clock off work at 11pm I am the very opposite of productive the next day).
Alright, so I’m being slightly facetious, and government organisations like the Ministry of Manpower do have goodguidelines on how to provide work-life strategies, but my point still stands. We need to change our frame of mind.
Late last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said although he didn’t believe young Singaporeans want work-life balance simply because they want an easy life, he did warn we need to be aware of the “trade-offs”.
"If you look at other countries: Vietnam, China, even in India, they're not talking about work-life balance; they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch. So I think I'd better guard my lunch," he said.
I understand what he means - and Singapore hasn't gained its status as a booming market globally by standing idle - but I do think it's a mistake not to talk about work-life balance in a world where many countries are finding the balance.
We don't want to tip the scales too far in one direction, do we?