Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Do The French Have The Perfect Work-Life Balance?

Lunch Break: 1.5 – 2hrs

The French are famous for their leisurely long lunches and leaving the office early which makes us slightly jealous and left wondering whether stress exists in France.

 How many times have you sat at your desk on your lunch break, furiously eating a salad or squashed sandwich whilst on the phone to your bank or energy company at the same time as trying to write a well versed email?

The British are notoriously bad for not taking a lunch break. The most we step away from our desks is to pop across the road to pick up a takeaway sandwich from the local Pret A Manger, or at a push, squeeze in a sweaty spin class to try and relieve some stress. When was the last time you went for a wander or took your full lunch hour to catch up with a friend?  

The French live life a much simpler way. Your lunchtime may include a restful hour and a half in a local restaurant with a friend or reading your book in the sunshine by the beach under the cloudless sky. Lunch is very important to the French. Even ‘work lunches’ will consist of a starter, main, cheese course and dessert and if you have to slum it in the work canteen (which offers free meals) you can enjoy delicacies such as fresh sea bass and greens in a butter and caper sauce.

The French have a much better and healthier viewpoint on food and lunch in general compared to the Brits. Instead of seeing lunch as a time to ‘refuel’ they believe it is a time to maintain friendship and helps with productivity.

Working Week: 35 hours

France has the shortest working week in Europe with just 35 hours. French workers also get 50% of their transport costs covered each month, double pay at Christmas and some workers even having a ‘no emails after 6pm’ rule. Extra life celebration perks include receiving 4 days off for your wedding and 16 weeks maternity leave compared to the UK’s 6 weeks. Wouldn’t that be lovely?!

People can obviously choose to work a little longer if they wish but they will either receive overtime pay or the equivalent time off next month which could add up to two extra days off! Bob Hancké, associate professor of political economy at London School of Economics and Political Science explains. “France’s working week is officially limited to 35 hours. But local trade unions can negotiate arrangements that deviate, as long as the average annual working time is 35 hours,” he says. “What’s worked above that is in principle overtime and paid as such (usually at 100% extra).”

Does it make a difference?

“One of the positive things I’ve noticed about French working culture is that even when things are busy and people are putting in the hours, you still have a life,” says Louise Preston, 31, who’s spending a year working in Paris as head of curriculum development at a small start-up. “We work in a high-paced environment but my colleagues still all play sports, go to the cinema, eat out or visit art galleries during the week. Life isn’t just about work, and even if you finish late, you still make the effort to do something, like head to a late-night exhibition. There’s a real value to spending spare time wisely and I just don’t think that exists to the same extent in the UK.”

It’s no surprise, then, that research carried out by has found that British workers suffer more stress and feel less able to deal with their workloads than the French. According to the 2014 research, only 13% of UK employees reported feeling no stress and “on top of their workload”. The French were among the least stressed, with 64% of employees reporting that they felt no stress at all at work and had no problem handling their workloads.
87% of UK employees feel stressed and can't handle their workload
 Although we have different working laws and longer working weeks, the French do seem to be onto something. They have a healthier view on a work-life balance, not letting it take over your personal time and development. Although we might not stop working at 6pm we will definitely start by treating ourselves to a lunch outside of the office today!

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