New law

The right to disconnect in the Big Four

Deloitte and PwC have taken a stand on the right to disconnect. KPMG is analysing the law. For EY, it is too early to react. Photos: Romain Gamba, Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne; Blitz Agency. Montage: Maison Moderne

Deloitte and PwC have taken a stand on the right to disconnect. KPMG is analysing the law. For EY, it is too early to react. Photos: Romain Gamba, Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne; Blitz Agency. Montage: Maison Moderne

Of the four Big Four firms surveyed, two claim to have introduced a right to disconnect. On the ground, staff representatives testify to a recent awareness of the need to balance private and professional life. But this does not rule out the possibility that problematic situations may persist.

The right to disconnect has been making itself felt in companies for almost two weeks now. The law, which was passed in June and came into force on 4 July, requires employers to introduce regulations on the subject. How is it being implemented by the Big Four?

Right to disconnect introduced at Deloitte and PwC

Deloitte claims that it has already incorporated this concept into its “human resources policy,” in consultation with the staff delegation. “We recommend the systematic introduction of ‘out of office’ messages, deferring the sending of emails and silencing notifications, as well as restraint when it comes to contacting an absent employee,” explains the firm.

At PwC, the right to disconnect has been institutionalised from 2021, following the covid crisis. “With more people at home, the boundaries between work and private life can become blurred,” explains people leader Roxane HaasRoxane Haas. “So we’ve encouraged people to disconnect, make changes to their iPhones to ensure everyone has healthy downtime, and be self-disciplined. We have reviewed the right to disconnect policy and organised information sessions for our employees.”

KPMG replied on 6 July that it was “too early to communicate. We are taking regular action (additional days off, information sessions, etc.) to raise awareness among our employees and encourage them to take care of themselves. The right to disconnect as described in the new law deserves special attention, and we are taking the time needed to implement the exact terms of this law.”

Contacted prior to the publication of the law in the official journal, EY replied that it “does not wish to comment at this time, as it is still a little early to react.” Contacted again after the law came into force, the company did not provide any further information.

The absence of a collective agreement

In practice, does disconnection really apply in the Big Four? “We are not represented there,” explains Michelle Cloos, central secretary of the OGBL’s services union. “But I’d be surprised if there weren’t problems. These companies don’t have a reputation for finishing at 5pm. They don’t have a collective agreement, so there’s no guarantee of a trade union to put up barriers.” As far as staff representatives are concerned, “they are often people in high positions.” The LCGB has no representation in these firms either.

Delano’s sister publication Paperjam was able to speak to two staff representatives from two separate Big Four firms. They wished to remain anonymous, but they occupy either a managerial position or have more than ten years’ seniority.

“In our company, there is a political will” to allow employees to disconnect, said one of them, who we’ll call Camille. Emails still arrive at late hours, but “the employee is not obliged to answer them.” But if they don’t, isn’t that frowned upon? “It used to be, but not any more.” Camille notes a change in mentality since covid. “There can always be black sheep. But nobody has come back to me to point out problems” linked to disconnection.

“I don’t want to say that life is perfect here, but I think that management has evolved over the last few years,” added the other person interviewed, who we’ll call Lou. For “about a year now, with the older generation of partners having retired.”

Lou explained this by “the arrival of generation Y” in the world of work. “They’re no longer prepared to work as many hours as previous generations.” Emails still arrive in the evening or over the weekend, but “we don’t have to answer them.” The staff delegation has not been consulted on this type of problem for several years. “People tend to come to complain about capping overtime,” said Lou.

Right to disconnect not respected for 22.7% of finance employees

Beyond the Big Four, “we introduced a right to disconnect in the collective agreement for the banking and insurance sector three years ago,” said Sylvie Reuter, central secretary for the financial sector at the OGBL union. In her view, “there is a growing awareness of this issue and management has committed to ensuring that it is respected.” Even if there are still “good pupils and bad pupils. The big banks stick to it and have even created safeguards, such as making it impossible to log on after a certain time, except for limited functions.” On the other hand, “in the smaller banks, anyone who wants to build a career logs on and replies outside their normal working hours.”

77.3% of employees in the sector believe that the right to disconnect is respected in their company, according to a survey of 456 bank and insurance employees conducted between October 2022 and January 2023.

What about “false executives?” “This is an extremely common phenomenon. As soon as you exceed a certain function or a certain salary, you are promoted and therefore fall outside the collective agreement. You then have a more flexible work-life balance.” How many people are affected? “It depends. Sometimes we have 20% of our employees covered by the collective agreement and 80% who are not. Other times, it's 40/60.” It’s a “problematic” situation, she admitted. “If you’re offered the chance to move out of the collective agreement to reach a higher level of function or salary and you refuse, it’s a brake on your career.”

In a previous article, Paperjam interviewed the country’s three largest employers. At the time, only the Post Group took a position on the subject of the right to disconnect.

Does your company not respect the right to disconnect and would you like to tell us about it? Please contact us at [email protected].

This article was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.