France is known for its great workplace culture and high productivity rates so maybe we can learn a thing or two from Emily in Paris and the Parisian work culture that came as a shock to an overworking American. In this article we will explore some of the workplace norms that have been adopted in France, and how they link to improved health and wellbeing for employees. From shorter working hours, quitting work talk outside the office, taking proper time out for lunch breaks and with a greater focus on work life balance it is no surprise that the French have a higher life expectancy.
Have you ever wondered how Emily manages to take her career by storm and still has enough free time for shopping, hanging out at Gabriel’s restaurant, and spending her days in coffee shops?
Well, we may have the answer.
Paris has some of the shortest working hours in the world, making it unsurprising that Emily seems to have so much time for her flamboyant lifestyle. The UBS financial services found that workers in the city of love had an average of a 30 hour and 50 minute working week – equating to 6 hours and 10 minutes per day. In comparison to the UK’s 40 hour working week, it seems that if you are looking for real work life balance, Paris is the place to be.
In France, it is illegal for residents to work outside of their regular working hours, including weekends; not even just replying to that ‘one last email’. This is in contrast to the UK, where it is common for people to work beyond their regular hours. In 2017 a French law was passed that granted workers ‘the right to disconnect’, making it illegal to work on weekends, or check emails outside working hours. So, if you happen to be waiting for an urgent response from someone in France, you may be waiting a while.
Lower working hours have many health benefits associated with them including decreased risk of burnout, improved sleep and overall better mental health. But what about the benefits to Parisian businesses? Well lower working hours have contributed to: increased productivity, reduced absence, improved morale and greater flexibility for both employees and employers.
Work does not define Parisians
Although work and ambition are just as important to the Parisians, they do not consider either to be an interesting quality. In contrast, in the UK, a person’s profession tends to be a major part of their identity, and it is considered normal to ask someone about their job. In France it is considered rude to speak about work or ask someone what they do for a living outside of the office. It is not uncommon for work to off the table as a topic of discussion at all during social gatherings.
Discussing work related issues outside the office has been linked to higher levels of stress among workers. By banishing work talk at social events it improves mental health, promotes work-life balance, and gives employees a greater enjoyment of personal activities. Employers will also see an increase in productivity as it allows employees to take a much needed break from work topics and allows them to return to their role feeling refreshed and focused.
Time off for lunch breaks
In France it is common for workers to take longer lunch breaks, during which they may go home or to a local café to eat and relax. They may even indulge in the odd beer or wine during this time. Lunch breaks can also last up to two hours! This is in stark comparison to the UK where one third of workers each their lunch huddled over their desk, with 43 per cent saying that they were too busy to pause and take a break from their computers for even a few minutes. The other two thirds that do actually manage to separate themselves from work on their lunch break often have shorter breaks and take them in communal break rooms in the workplace.
It is important in the French culture to take time to enjoy your meal and they tend to be entirely against the idea of eating whilst walking or driving. The same applies to drinking coffee. In the UK coffee is seen as more as an energy supplement, allowing people to plough through high workloads, whereas in France workers take time away from their desk to enjoy coffee and it is seen as an opportunity to clear their mind and socialise with co-workers.
Taking adequate lunch breaks serves great health benefits. It allows an adequate break from work-related tasks, offering the chance for employees to recharge. This can help educe stress when back in the office allowing employees greater capacity to take on tasks and deal with problems at work. Moreover, it allows employees to engage in physical activity by taking a walk to a local café and allows them to enjoy a healthy meal which reaps its own health benefits.
French culture places a strong emphasis on work-life balance, and it is common for employees to have a good amount of vacation time. French employees are rewarded with up to 5 weeks holidays in comparison to the UK’s statutory minimum of 28. This leaves more time for Parisians like Emily to spend with friends and family and to focus on rejuvenating themselves.
Ensuring employees have enough time to switch off an pursue personal goals can lead to improved mental and physical health as well as improving relationships and overall life satisfaction. In addition, work-life balance may also improve productivity and performance at work, as employees who are able to manage their time effectively and are not overwhelmed by their workload may be more focused and motivated.