I’m growing very fond of dictating blogs and editing the format after!  The voice-to-text isn’t great, but it’s better than I expected.  On to the topic though:

Due to the legislation on the 35-hour work week in France (and vacation time), I am frequently asked if the French dislike working, are lazy or some variation of this topic.  So, I’m going to break down the differences between France and the US:

  • 35-hour vs 40-hour work week: The 35-hour work week is largely a myth.  The 35-hour work week simply means that some overtime must be paid after 35 hours (or RTT banked).
    • The overtime rate is .25 or those hours can be banked as additional vacation time (aka RTT).
    • While some companies do give their employees a half day off during the week to accommodate the 35-hour work week, many employees are working more than 35 hours.
  • Overtime: This one works differently here.
    • As illustrated above, you can pay your employees OR give them more time off later.
    • This “time off” deal may be why an employee can effectively work 6 days per week in high season and 4 days per week in low season without OT actually being paid.  Frankly, I don’t fully understand the rules on OT.
  • Managers (Salaried Employees): There is no 35-hour work week for salaried employees.
    • At my company, most of the managers seem to work about an average of 9 hours per day.  The average working week for a cadre employee in France overall is 44 hours.
    • HOWEVER, unlike in the US where there is effectively no compensation for OT (better account for it in your salary requirements), we get 9 RTT days in France.  This is effectively extra vacation to offset the fact that we are frequently working long hours. (UPDATE: I’ve since learned it isn’t a fixed 9 days, but rather that we are capped at 218 working days per year).
    • I actually work more hours as a salaried employee in France than I ever did in the US.  I’ve had positions where a 9-10 hour day during close was common (12 hours in a crisis situation); however, this is the first position I’ve ever held where a 10-12 hour day was normal basically EVERY day, year-round.
  • Efficiency: There is the perception that the French are so protective of their labor laws because they are lazy or that these laws lead to a lack of productivity.
    • In fact, when measuring efficiency by gross domestic output, the French are slightly less efficient than the Americans, but more efficient than the Germans or British.
    • The 35-hour work week was originally instituted to create more jobs.  In reality, the French simply worked harder to get the job done in less time.  French efficiency went up, but the law wasn’t very effective at creating new jobs.
  • (Lots of) Vacation Time: This one is not a myth.  We do get 30 days of vacation in France.
    • The catch is that this includes 5 Saturdays, so it’s really 5 weeks of vacation.
    • In addition, if you’re a manager (or work over 35 hours), you get jour cadre or RTT.
      • Realistically, the RTT days might be the only ones where you get to choose the date.  Our plant shuts down for four weeks in August and one week in December, so the majority of employees are effectively forced to use their full vacation allotment during this time.
      • If you don’t like traveling at the same time as the rest of the country (and when it’s more expensive), tough luck in France!
  • (Lots of) Public Holidays: This is sort of a myth.  The French have 11 public holidays; however, if they fall on a weekend they are lost.
    • Out of the next four years, the French will have 9 holidays in two years and 10 holidays in the other two years.  This compares with 8 holidays and 2 floating holidays for our US employees (10 total).  So, we actually have fewer paid holidays in several years.
    • Unfortunately, HALF of them fall between the end of March and early June (depending on when Easter is), which can generate comments in the US, like, “When are the French not out for a holiday?”  I can tell you when – basically the rest of the year.
  • The bridge: There is one other difference that also contributes to the perception that we’re always out for a holiday – the bridge.  It is common to be closed on Monday or Friday to “bridge” to a holiday on Tuesday or Thursday.
    • This is not paid as holiday time though.  We take vacation pay or RTT time to cover these days.
    • While there is only one day that falls under this in 2017, in 2018 there are six!  In fact, two of the holidays fall on Tuesday and Thursday in the same week, so might as well bridge the whole week and take it off! (At least, that’s my plan)  In France, they’d refer to this as an “employees’ year” and the years when many holidays are on weekends is a “management year.”
    • Realistically, many employees do this in the US as well (with vacation).  The difference is that, in France, everyone has the opportunity to “bridge” since the business is closed (no need to worry about staffing an area).  The downside is that you’re effectively forced (again) to take your paid time off at set times, whether you want to or not.

In summary, the French do work less than Americans on average (The OECD showed an average of ~1,500 hours per year vs. ~1,700 hours per year).  Largely, this is because MOST of the French really do embrace the idea that you work so that you can live, you don’t live so that you can work.

At the same time, this model actually has some benefits for the employer too.  For example, you know exactly when the majority of your employees will be on vacation.  There’s no need for a seniority system – everyone gets the highly-desirable summer and holiday vacation time.  This also means less disruption the rest of the year because there is limited vacation time being taken at other times.  Additionally, you can plan for major maintenance or installing new equipment during the vacation periods without impacting production (which is already shutdown).