The Stream

Is work-life balance a myth?

How the digital age is reshaping our lives.

Imagine a world where you aren’t allowed to check your work email at night or on the weekends. France is trying to make that a reality with the “right to disconnect”, a new law that went into effect at the beginning of January. According to the law, companies of 50 people or more must negotiate with unions to establish times when workers are not required to respond to work-related emails. The law raises questions about the best way to create boundaries between the increasingly blurred lines of work and personal life in the digital age.

As French parliamentarian Benoit Hamon put it: “Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog.”

Sound familiar? That’s because it’s happening around the world. A 2015 study from Ernst & Young found that one in three employees in some of the world’s largest economies feel that work-life balance has become more challenging in the last five years. Efforts to separate work and personal life are also underway in Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Germany.

Critics of the French law say it is unenforceable and won’t solve the larger problem of management style. Boundaries can’t be legislated, rather they need to be put in place by companies. Others say it is up to the individual to set boundaries with their employers. They say the digital era has allowed for more flexibility in the workplace, the ability to work from home, and saves time and money on commuting for both individuals and companies. Still, supporters of the law in France say most people are happy with it.

The Stream explores how attitudes towards work are evolving in the digital age, and the role that electronic communication is playing in reshaping our work and personal lives. Whose responsibility is it to create boundaries between work and private life? 

On this episode of The Stream, we speak to:

Alex Pang  @askpang
Founder, The Restful Company

Emily Hill @emilybynight
Health and Wellness Journalist

Nigel Marsh
Author, “Fat, Forty, and Fired” 

Patrick Thiebart @PThiebart
Labour Employment Lawyer

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.