‘Millions of French workers’ close to burnout

The French are known for the 35-hour week, a guaranteed five weeks of vacation and as keepers of the sacred notion of a proper lunch break. Yet more than 3 million of the working population is on the brink of burning out, a new study revealed. And what about expats?

'Millions of French workers' close to burnout
Millions of French workers are close to burn out, a new study says. Photo: Reynermedia/Flickr

The French may have a reputation for working as much as they play, but that stereotype is countered by a growing body of evidence that suggests they are slogging away too far too hard.

About 3.2 million French workers, who put an excessive and even compulsive effort into their jobs, are on the verge of burning out, a new study says.

The study from Technologia, a French firm that looks at ways to reduce risks to workers, found that farmers, at 23.5 percent, were most prone to excessive work, followed closely at 19.6 percent by business owners and managers.

The all-consuming nature of people’s jobs has left them feeling exhausted, emotionally empty and sometimes physically in pain, Technologia found.

“France’s appearance from the outside can be a bit simplified,” Technologia's head Jean-Claude Delgenes told The Local on Monday. “There is a lot of overtime. Most workers don’t adhere strictly to the 35-hour work week.”

Instead, they are staying late, doing more and working remotely because the economic crisis has them in fear of losing their jobs, he says. France is battling a 16-year high unemployment rate that is hovering above 10.5 percent. At the same time email and smart phones allow people to work any time, any place.

“We have poor self-control when it comes to new technology,” Delgenes said. “Work spills over into people’s private lives. The difference between work and social life used to be clearly distinct."

'I have received one call from an expat'

At the same time the subject of burnout is somewhat taboo in France, where workers put in fewer hours than their European neighbours, but are highly productive. While the average French worker did 41.2 hours of work in 2011, German employees spent 41.9 hours in the clock and the Brits pulled 42.8 hours.

There is some, at least anecdotal evidence, that expats in France are feeling less consumed by their work or have found a way to cope with it. Perhaps the fact that many expats have come from countries that traditionally put in more hours than the French has had some bearing.

One listener for SOS Help, a help line for expats in France, says he has received one call about work-related problems out of some 8,000 calls in the many years he has listened to callers' concerns.

“We usually talk to people dealing with loneliness and isolation,” said Andrew, one of the organization's listeners, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We see people who are dealing with deep-seated issues that were exacerbated by their coming to France.”

The impact of burnout also seems to disproportionately affect women. Two in ten French women and one in ten French men felt their work left them emotionally drained. Single mothers and fathers were also much more likely, at 28 percent, as opposed to 12 percent of single people without kids, to feel their work had left them sapped.

'It needs to be worse than losing a hand'

France’s growing troubles with burnout are also tied to restrictions on getting the state to cover the cost of treatment or time off work. Presently a person would have to show he or she has had their abilities reduced by 25 percent in order to have burnout officially recognized.

To put that into perspective a person who loses a hand on the job is considered to have lost 20 percent of their working capacity.

“So you’d have to be pretty beat up,” Delgenes said. “It needs to be worse than losing a hand.”

And presently the system is set so that workers are responsible for most of the costs of their own treatment in the case of work-related burnout. However, if the burnout were reclassified so that it's similar to other work-related injures, as Technologia is advocating, employers would be handed the majority of the cost.

This study reinforces the revelations that followed from a string of suicides at France Telecom in 2008-2009, which sparked national soul-searching about the modern work culture in France and its impact on health. From 2008-2011 more than 60 workers killed themselves, with some leaving notes that blamed work stress.

The rate of suicides among the company’s 102,000 France-based workers was 15.3 percent per year, slightly higher than the rate for the general population of 14.7 percent. Technologia was among the bodies that looked at the company culture, which French labour authorities ultimately found to be “conducive to generating suffering at work”.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.