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Should We Adopt France’s New “Unplug After 6 p.m.” Law?

Should We Adopt France’s New “Unplug After 6 p.m.” Law?

How often do you check your work email?

If you’re like me–and a lot of people these days–the answer is too often.

I confess that I check my work email after hours and on the weekend. If I see something coming in that I can respond to at the moment, I do. So even if I’m “relaxing,” I am working. My mind is always at least half-plugged into my job.

That’s why the news coming out of France is an interesting topic of discussion. While the initial headline (“France Outlaws Work Email After 6 p.m.”) is not quite true, it is still a bold statement in favor of unplugging and work/life balance.

Should we, in the U.S., follow suit and unplug after the workday is over? Can, and should, we limit the hours we spend working, either at the office or while thumbing through our inbox while waiting at the post office?

Working smarter, not harder

One of the popular reactions to France’s move was a figurative roll of the eyes. Some folks were not surprised France did this. As the stereotype goes, French workers spend most of their time sipping wine and eating baguettes. That’s why their productivity, at the individual level as well as a country, is so far below America’s. Right?

Let’s look at the facts. The graph below (from Business Insider) shows the average number of work hours per year for a full-time employee in the U.S. (blue), France (red), and Germany (green). Germany is in there because it’s one of the United States’ fiercest competitor in the race for most productive industrial country in the world.

usvsfrenchvsgermany

    As you can see, the United States is currently leading the pack with the average American worker spending over 1,700 hours at work a year. Meanwhile, French workers spend around 1,450, and the German worker spends slightly over 1,400 hours at work a year.

    Notice how the American domination of the “Burning the Midnight Oil” race (they get medals and everything) is recent. A few decades ago, the French were putting in many more hours than their American counterparts, but that has changed with stricter labor laws.

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    This graph is definitive proof that all those extra hours are making the American economy the burliest in the land by leaps and bounds, right?

    Cool your jets, engine. Not quite.

    Look at the GDP per Capita (productivity or output per worker) for the same three countries over the last thirty years.

    GDP per Capita in 1980

    US: $12,180

    France: $12, 214

    Germany: $11,746

    GDP per Capita in 1990

    US: $23,038

    France: $21,359

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    Germany: $21,584

    GDP per Capita in 2011

    US: $48,112

    France: $42, 379

    Germany: $44,021

    While Americans spend nearly 20% more of their time at work than the Germans and French, they only have an 8.5% edge over them in productivity.

    There are a variety of reasons for this: how specialized the work in each country is, the average level of education, etc. But one thing is clear: an increase of work hours does not increase productivity on an arithmetic, much less exponential, scale. There is a simple reason why: we are talking about human beings.

    Unlike machines or software, we can’t go on and on without suffering from fatigue or wear. We add stress to our bodies and minds throughout the day. This is called the allostatic load.

    Being plugged in to work (via emails, calls, or having it on your mind) is wear and tear on your entire self. After a certain point, it starts to affect your productivity. Each extra hour at work has diminishing returns. Fatigue, lack of concentration, and loss of functional memory set in.

    Ironically, not working is one of the most important secrets to doing great work.

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    Research shows that taking an email vacation can significantly reduce your stress and increase your concentration.

    From a University of California – Irvine study:

    “We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress.”

    Taking a work email vacation lets your internal microprocessor cool down. You’re turning off the hum from the part of your brain still thinking about deadlines and memos. Do this, and the next time you re-engage with work, you’ll be fresh and focused, ready to do great work.

    Every time you work into the wee hours of the night, sending emails or finishing a project, you are risking doing poor work. Your body and mind are tired, so mistakes are likelier to happen. If you want to do work you’ll be proud of, you have to find ways of working smarter, not harder.

    Warning: cliff ahead

    Our brains are amazing. They can calculate, visualize, and operate with tremendous power. But they have limits. These limits don’t just affect your productivity, but your health.

    Quite literally, working long hours can kill you.

    A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology combined numerous studies, and found a simple, irrefutable truth:

    “Spending too long in the office resulted in a 40 to 80 percent greater chance of heart disease compared to an eight hour work day.”

     

    “Doing more than 11 hours of work a day raised heart disease risks by 67 percent.”

    Another study review listed all of the proven links between working long hours and your health:

    “[It] shows that long work hours are indeed associated with adverse health, in particular cardiovascular disease, disability retirement, subjectively measured poor health, and fatigue.”

     

    “The most interesting studies show that working more than 11 hours a day is associated with a three times higher risk of myocardial infarction and about a four times higher risk of noninsulin-dependent diabetes”

    This is no longer just an issue of whether you want to do great work, but whether you want to do this to your health?

    The move made in France is bold. It’s potentially revolutionary, and may, hopefully, set the tone for other countries. But it makes you wonder why it had to get to that point. Why did we need something official to limit us to the 40-hour work week when these nasty facts linking productivity and health have been confirmed time and again for decades?

    Maybe it’s custom, or maybe it’s naivete. Whatever it is, there’s no good excuse to ignore it anymore. Ask yourself this question: do you want to do very good work for a long time? If you said yes, then give yourself a break and step away from the smartphone.

     

    How do you achieve work life balance? Tell me in the comments below.

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    Featured photo credit: Chris Chan via flickr.com

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    Last Updated on January 14, 2019

    The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

    The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

    Regardless of whether you hold an entry-level administration role or regularly travel to the ends of the Earth as a hot-shot senior executive, you can still find yourself harboring an emptiness… a feeling that something is missing. A popular assumption that experiencing job satisfaction and a successful career should be underpinned by a well-rounded suite of tangible benefits, no longer holds true for many of us.

    We’d never deny health care benefits, appropriate and fair remuneration, bonuses and travel perks in a job package. However, even if served to us on a silver platter, those features can only satiate us to a certain point.

    You might wonder what governs entrepreneurs and start-up business owners to quit their lucrative jobs, essentially look the gift horse in the mouth and kiss such benefits goodbye! There can be an irresistible pull to mastermind a business with products and/or services that serve the greater good of community wider than that constituting their daily existence.

    Even with research showing entrepreneurship to pose greater threats to their mental and physical health, this unique breed of individuals choose to go against the grain in chasing their dreams of being their own boss. Why? Why would anyone risk this type of career suicide?

    Whether you’re an employee, have recently taken the leap to being a business owner or been in business for a while, the commonality is a congenital condition we all share as human beings; to feel a sense of purpose, value and contribution to our community. Despite it being harder to find this for ourselves in today’s world, these approaches will help you achieve ultimate satisfaction through the twists, turns and joyrides that are essential features of shaping a successful career.

    1. Search for Opportunities That Feed Your Passion, Not Temporary Excitement

    Even though well-intended, the ‘feel good now’ compass that career coaches and consultants often recommend you use to create career satisfaction can actually do you more harm than good. Excitement is transient. It doesn’t last. Passion is the compass you need.

    Passion and excitement are two different things. The resounding career legacy that still draws you to turn up on the job regardless of the sunshine or storm that awaits you…that’s passion. It’s like a mental and/or emotional itch you can’t shrug off. Staying attuned to that calling will breed success for you sooner or later. Patience is key.

    You’re also likely to have more than one key passion. Beware of getting caught in the notion you have to find your one true purpose. In fact, run immediately from any coach who tells you there is only one. There isn’t.

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    Your passion is a journey that can take multiple forms so forget thinking there is the single dream job out there that will give you satisfaction in every way you can imagine. It simply doesn’t exist.

    Consider embracing different roles and projects to help you fuel your passion or fuel your pursuits in finding it. Job satisfaction and your career success will be all the more sweeter from a wider range of enriching experiences.

    2. Don’t Position Job and Career Satisfaction Assessments as Pivotal Guides to Your Success

    Despite their popular use for vocational guidance, assessment tools such as Gallup’s Clifton Strengths and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator have come under fire[1] as being limited to the amount of true value and direction they can offer partakers.[2] These and many other guidance assessment tools (e.g. VIA Character Strengths , DISC ) are self-report questionnaires that don’t have normative population data against which to compare your results.

    Simply remember these tools help you develop a stronger sense of what you identify as strengths and weaknesses within yourself, not in comparison with other people. They will still add insight around what sorts of career opportunities, tasks and projects are going to light your fire, what ones are going to extinguish it and what will prod and keep the coals steadily smoldering.

    3. Be Clear on Your Personal Values, Ethics and Principles and Choose Relationships That Support You Honoring Them

    Teamwork, collaboration, open communication and trust are commonplace for any flourishing work environment. However, whether or not your personal values can be honored in your work can make or break your job satisfaction.

    How committed do you want to be to an organization that expects an average of 10 unpaid overtime hours every week under the guise of ‘reasonable overtime’? Are you willing to accept their construing this expectation as ‘strong commitment’ at the expense of your partner and children waiting at home for you? What are your boundaries concerning when you clock on to their time and when you clock off to yours?

    Being very in tune with what your personal values, principles and ethics are will bid you well in the job satisfaction stakes. Spending time to reflect on experiences and working relationships you’ve had – the good, the bad and the ugly – will help you make well-informed searches and grounded decisions that will propel your career success.

    Finding and nurturing relationships with associates and colleagues who share similar values doesn’t just make your day-to-day pursuits more enjoyable. You become fortunate to work with like-minded people who will support, understand and appreciate you like a second family.

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    Being able to honor your personal values in your work means you will still be able to sleep at night when you have to tread where others fear to, and make extremely difficult decisions others would never ever dream of having to make as you forge success in your career.

    4. Be Clear on Your Own Definition of What Having a Successful Career Means for You

    It’s tempting to get caught up in the ideals and projections of success expressed by those we love, admire and respect. Underneath, we all want on some level to belong to a successful club of some sort.

    With research reporting how much money we feel we need to be truly happy,[3] many of us try to subscribe to the notion that having the car of our dreams or taking a European holiday annually will not bring us happiness. The truth, however, for many of us is these tangible rewards are congratulatory reminders of our persistent efforts to chase our career pursuits.

    If those are things you aspire to, don’t let anyone steal your desire and want to feel deserving of these things, that those are some parameters by which you define your career success.

    Despite consistently being the top revenue earner for two years running, you may not wish to become the sales manager. You may not wish to step out into running your own business even though you consistently excel as an employee, delighting clients and repeatedly receiving glowing testimonials.

    Your definition of career success might be enjoying the predictability of a regular workplace routine. You get to leave – without feeling guilty – at the same time each day, love the people you work with and get to spend a good, uninterrupted amount of work-stress free quality time with your family. That picture is also blissful job satisfaction and complete career success.

    5. Identify the Sorts of Challenges and Problems You Want to Learn to Overcome

    Standard advice you might receive from a career coach might be to look for opportunities where you get to capitalize on exercising your strengths and career-related activities you enjoy.

    However, to become a success at anything involves improvement. To excel at anything often involves stepping outside boundaries and comfort zones where others wouldn’t. This means dedicating focus and attention to things you’re not so good at and things you don’t like.

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    Here’s where working with a coach can be particularly helpful. Map out the experiences that were unsavory in your working history. Were there challenges you opted out of, projects you failed at or toxic relationships that blasted your sense of purpose and self-worth into oblivion? It’s within these experiences that you might just find the most valuable lessons and guiding lights for your trajectory to achieve greater job satisfaction.

    If your natural leadership style is to be a collaborator, finding opportunities that require you to apply a more dictatorial style might be needed. Discussing a secondment or short-term project where you get to develop and test your skills can be a step further in earning contention to lead a larger project down the track.

    With several of the company’s boldest personality types penciled to roll out the operation, you’ll not only develop skills that earn your right to throw your hat in the ring; those key players have an opportunity to see your competence. You can then work on building relationships with those stakeholders before you need to hit the ground running should you win the lead.

    Greater job satisfaction comes with planning and choosing the lessons and opportunities you want to learn, not desperately flailing, floundering and hoping for the best.

    6. Keep Reviewing Your Goal Posts and Be Amenable to Change

    The word ‘career’ is indicative of a longer-term pathway of change, growth and development. The journey is dynamic.

    You will accumulate new skills and let those you no longer need, become rusty. Your intrigue will be stimulated by new experiences, knowledge and people you meet. Your thinking will continue to expand, not shrink. As a result, your goalposts are likely to change.

    A major part of enjoying a successful career is not just setting goals effectively, but regularly reviewing and readjusting them where necessary. However, moving the posts or the target still needs to take place by applying the same processes by which you originally created them. The strength of your emotional connection to those revised goals needs to be the same, if not stronger.

    By asking yourself the following questions, you can assure your developmental and growth trajectory is still on course:

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    • Would working toward these goals still allow me to honor my personal values, principles and ethics at the same capacity if not greater?
    • Do the activities I need to undertake to meet these goals honor my highest priorities?
    • Does this feel right for me and those who are nearest and dearest to me?
    • Is this aligned with my passion?
    • Is chasing this goal a right step for me to take now or is this a detour or distraction which could delay my greater plan?

    Each of your career goals should have different review periods. Whatever you do, stick to the review schedule you set. It will not only keep you focused but help you see your progress (or lack thereof) and allow you to timely re-chart your course before you get too far down the track. You don’t want to waste time haphazardly heading in the wrong direction.

    7. Be Prepared to Let Go

    It can be unfathomable to us as to why others risk leaping into the unknown when everything truly appears fine and dandy in the career realm. The company provided stability, recognition, financial success, interesting projects and the promise of a promotion…what was wrong? Why now jump sideways to run a café or train in another field altogether?

    Nothing may have been wrong at all. It was all going right. It was just the end of a chapter. Perhaps the yearning for the next step is actually taking a different trajectory entirely. You may want to simply experience a different rhythm. Perhaps it’s time to pursue a different passion.

    If you have leaped from employee-land to freelancing or have made the reverse-jump (or you know someone who has), you will have quickly grown a different appreciation for pros and cons each work lifestyle brings. Working for yourself can bring the greater realization of your creativity, whether or not it can be monetized to earn you a living.

    When your customers are buying you or a product you designed and fashioned, there is a direct level of appreciation and gratitude that can elevate your confidence in the way you have never experienced as an employee, regardless of your rank.

    Similarly, there are times where we need to recognize our business ventures were adventures, not long-term life-changing empires. There are times we need to recognize that time is what provides the clearest limitation of how long we persist for in such pursuits.

    We have to recognize the absence of enough financial, mental, emotional and physical breadcrumbs that tells us we’re no longer meant to push in that direction. At least, not for the present time.

    The Bottom Line

    Above all, keep the momentum. As long as you remain committed to pursuing work opportunities that allow you to honor your highest priorities, the truth of who you are and what you stand for, achieving ultimate job satisfaction and a successful career will never be too far away.

    More Resources to Help Advance Your Career

    Featured photo credit: Csaba Balazs via unsplash.com

    Reference

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