How do the French work?

The French media were (unsurprisingly) up in arms last week when the American CEO of tyre company Titan, Maurice Taylor branded French workers to be lazy. Not only was this brash move highly unprofessional, it showed a severe lack of understanding of the French work culture. For those who are considering working in France, it is surprising how different the Anglo-Saxon and French cultures are. Therefore, it would be beneficial to acquaint yourself with a few of the basics before you make the move to France. For that reason, we’ve compiled a list of the main features of French work culture to help you out.

Image via Aidan Jones

The Package. As well as your salary, you are entitled to having 50% of your travel pass reimbursed. Larger companies will often offer either a subsidised canteen or tickets restaurants, worth about 6,50€ – 10€ that can be used in cafés, restaurants or supermarkets. You may also have access to company facilities such as a gym but this isn’t so commonplace. Most companies also have a mutuelle in place whereby they contribute towards a supplementary health coverage. The French are more clued-up about their rights than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts with full awareness of their obligations and entitlements so it is advisable you swot up on standard practices!

Hours and holidays. With the introduction of the 35-hour working week in 2000 alongside the generous holidays (5 weeks being the norm), it is a common misconception that the French have it easy. On the contrary, it is quite common to do overtime and despite the relatively low working hours, time and time again, the French have been named as the most productive workforce in the world.  The French abide by the work hard, play hard mantra placing high value on their work-life balance.

The Working Day.The average working day gets off to slow start with employees arriving from 9.30 to 10am. This first part of the day is usually taken up by reading emails, checking voicemails and preparing everything for the day ahead. The majority of the work will be done between 10 and 12 then 2 until 5 as the infamous long lunch breaks are still a staple part of the day. There is a growing trend for on-the-go lunches but for now, the lengthy lunch breaks reign supreme. The work tends to wind down towards the end of the day especially at the end of the week with early finishes on Friday being commonplace. The average clocking-off time is around 6 to 7pm.

Hierarchy. The hierarchical structure is rigorously adhered to in France. The boss at the top always has the final word; therefore major decisions cannot be made without their say-so. Keep your French formal, use the vous form and avoid use of colloquialisms. At meetings, the seating plan will clearly indicate the manager. Interaction between colleagues is generally on the formal side unless clearly stated otherwise.

Professional relationships.  When walking into the office first thing, you will greet all your colleagues individually either by shaking their hand or doing the French bises (kiss on either cheek) depending on your relationship with them. Colleagues usually keep working relationships purely professional as they tend not to interact with each other outside of the workplace. This maintains the divide between professionaland personal life. This however, does depend on the company and sector with certain companies encouraging employee interaction outside of work.

Of course, this is just an overview of French work culture and the day-to-day life in the workplace could differ depending on sector and company. Hopefully, our guide will have given you an idea of what to expect!

What are your impressions of French work culture? If you are French, what are your impressions of Anglo-Saxon work culture?

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