French work culture: What Americans can learn from the French

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

French work culture I used to work at a retirement home as a teenager and the elderly residents would always tell me how it felt like just yesterday that they were my age. I’d just smile and nod not really understanding what they meant. Now at 29, I feel like time really does fly. My perspective has shifted on how I view work and living in France surely had something to do with it. Being here has opened my eyes to how Europeans view a work-life balance. Not only do they work smarter, but they have enough vacation time to make the average American green with envy.

Read on for more on what Americans can learn from French work culture!

The work-life balance within French work culture seems to be nothing short of amazing. It’s something I feel American society can learn from so life doesn’t pass you by before you have a chance to actually live. I work to live, not the other way around, and maybe it’s time for Americans to learn a thing or two from the French…

One thing you’ll notice if you visit France in the summer is that the whole place pretty much shuts down during the months of July and August. Many shops and restaurants are closed and signs on businesses saying they’re en vacances for the next couple of weeks is the norm.

French work culture

French work culture vacation No, not all French people are teachers who get summers off. But French workers do get a nice chunk of vacation time each year. How much? Well, let’s take my husband Tom for example. He makes employment in France look like a dream and works 39 hours/week for the municipal government. Because the normal French work week is 35 hours/week, he gets even more vacation time than the average employee. How much? Nine weeks a year. Yes, NINE. Taking a month off in the summer is the norm and something that’s encouraged not to mention days here and there and long weekends galore. Oh, and there are 14 or so public holidays French workers also get off.

And what about sick days? In France, as long as you have a doctor’s note, the days don’t count against you or come out of your vacation “bank.” If you have the flu for a week and a doctor’s note to prove it, you don’t lose “sick days.”

Is your interest piqued?

French employment facts

Here are some stats on employment in France (from BBC News):

  • The 35-hour work week was introduced in 2000. The average French full-time employee gets at least 5 weeks of paid vacation per year and in many cases, like Tom’s, you get much more time than that.
  • Only 9% of French workers belong to a union, which is the lowest figure in Europe.
  • Childcare is state-subsidized and widely available. There are also tax and travel concessions for households with 3+ children.
  • France has one of the highest rates of female employment in Europe, with 81% of women between the ages of 25 and 49 employed, three-quarters of those with two children.
  • Salary averages per year: Professionals 70,126 euros, Executives 39,360 euros, Farm workers 21,114 euros, Clerical 14,850 euros (keep in mind that healthcare and education are free)
  • Major industries are aerospace, automotive, pharmaceuticals, industrial machinery, food and drink and tourism. Even a master’s degree in social work would go a long way; you can find more information about what it would take to complete these courses and how high of a demand there is for social workers in France online.

French work life balance

Now let me be clear in that no system is perfect. There are many things about the French work culture and employment in general that are flawed just like in any country. But facts are facts and no one will argue that the French value their leisure time. They work hard and are rewarded for it. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about saving up your days for one big vacation either around the holidays or during the summer? French people take plenty of time off without even blinking an eye and they’re happier for it.

How many of you reading this are Americans with a measly two weeks of paid vacation? Wouldn’t 5-10 weeks just make your life that much more enjoyable? I know that I’d be happier about coming in to work each morning…

Will American work culture shift? I don’t know. Americans work a lot. Europe knows that about us. Americans slave away during the prime years of their lives for what purpose? Just to have freedom to do what they want after age 60+? Where’s the fun in that? I never quite accepted the fact that we have to work hard until retirement age and wait to pursue the things we love. Why not do both? In France, you can. Amen!

What do you think about the work/life balance in French work culture? I’m down.

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Comments (10)

  • Simon P

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    Geez, nine weeks off a year is pretty good! And don’t the French strike a lot, too – so they get even more time off? Haha, I’m only kidding around! Unless, of course, that stereotype is true?

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Simon, my husband gets 9 weeks PLUS 14 public holidays. Sickeningly awesome, eh? And yes, there are loads of strikes. It seems to be a hobby of the SNCF transit workers, teachers and a bunch of other groups. Totally true!

      Reply

  • Ann Mah

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    I worked in an office in France and loved the pace. But I often wonder and worry about how the system affects small business owners. We have café-owning friends who work 15-hour days, 50 weeks a year. Others I’ve met — boulangers, charcutiers, fromagers — work similar hours. But the 35-hour workweek, combined with the high cost of employee benefits, makes hiring punitive for most small businesses. For me, local shops are the lifeblood of French culture. I’d hate to see them disappear.

    Reply

  • Claire Thomas

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    If it wasn’t for your post about dog poop, I’d be filling out French citizenship paperwork while studying abroad this fall, in all honesty. It sounds a lot better than growing old in the USA on quite a few counts.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Don’t let a little dog poop stop you Claire!!! As long as you watch your step, you’ll be fine. ;-) And come to think of it, ever since I posted about the poop, I’ve actually seen poop bag dispensers in a few parks!!

      Reply

  • Xrac

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    Absolutely prefectly stated. I have said the exact same thing myself many times. Love the site please dont stop!

    “Americans slave away during the prime years of their lives for what purpose? Just to have freedom to do what they want after age 60+?”

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Reply

  • lewis

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    You say they work hard? I say they hardly work and that is recognized by companies pulling out France is socialism and is strangling business and forfeiting future of their kids oh wait Muslims will fill the gap

    Reply

  • Maria

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    I live in Germany and it quite the same. Different was in Italy, where I come from, where working week and vacations are more similar to Americans.., not a good sign for US eh?!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Nope, not a good sign at all. Americans work like dogs and 40+ workweeks are increasingly normal and even rewarded! I know many companies have more than 2 weeks of paid vacation but it’s easy to feel like you aren’t even entitled to the measly two weeks in fear of not looking like a hard worker. Europe definitely wins when it comes to work/life balance. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply

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