It's official (kind of): French work fewest hours in EU

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It's official (kind of): French work fewest hours in EU
Photo: zoetnet/Flickr

A study has been released indicating that the French work fewer hours than any other European country. Something to celebrate?


Two-hour lunch breaks, plentiful paid holidays, a 35-hour work week… Other nations are always quick to judge France for being lazy and never wanting to work (maybe out of jealousy..?)

But it seems a new study comes out every other day that only seems to reinforce these stereotypes. 

Full-time salaried workers in France put in 1,646 hours in 2015, according to the latest study by Eurostat and Coe-Rexecode. That’s 199 fewer hours than the Germans, 130 fewer than the Italians, and 228 fewer than the Brits.

Until a couple years ago, it was the Finnish who claimed the fantastic/dubious honor of working the fewest hours in Europe, but the French overtook them in 2014.

Between 2013 and 2015, the gap in working hours only widened between France and its European neighbors, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, and Germany. 

But this most recent study is certainly not the first to single out the French for being the least-hard working of the Europeans.

A study released just last month named Paris and Lyon as the two cities with the shortest work weeks out of 71 major world cities. 

French workers just can't catch a break. Or they are taking too many of them.

However this could all change of course if the French government's unpopular labour reforms come into law as they are designed to allow companies to make the length of the working week far more flexible. 

Here's what the new study had to contribute to the conversation. 

Government workers bring down the national average

A fact that will perhaps not come as a surprise to expats who bemoan French bureaucracy, it’s government workers who work the least in France. 

Public administration, education, health, and social action officials work 1,569 hours per year, which falls below the legal working hours of 1,607 hours per year (35 hours per week). 

But Minister of Public Function Annick Girardin was quick to play down the stereotype of the unproductive, slacking government worker. 

“We’re far from the image of the lazy civil servant,” she told AFP. “To set the record straight, 36 percent of government workers work on Sunday, as opposed to 25 percent in the private sector, and 17.5 percent work nights, as opposed to 14.9 percent in the private sector.”

She did however acknowledge certain “dysfunctions linked to managerial practices that need to change.”

Five weeks off per year? More like ten

As far as time off, the French are entitled to at least five weeks off per year and up to 22 days of RTT (Reduction of Working Time) for those who choose or have to work more than 35 hours per week.

But according to Eurostat’s calculations, the average French salaried worker is out of the office 10.6 weeks out of the year.

This breaks down to seven weeks of holiday time or RTT, 1.6 weeks off for sickness or childcare, 0.8 weeks off for public holidays, 0.5 weeks off for “other”, 0.4 for maternity or paternity leave, and 0.2 for training.

Photo: Alan Cleaver/Flickr

Non-salaried workers picking up the slack?

French salaried workers may be well behind the rest of Europe when it comes to working hours, but when you look at non-salaried workers, the numbers look a bit different. 

In 2015 they actually worked 42 percent more hours than the average full-time salaried worker in France, so 2,335 hours as opposed to 1,646.

“In nearly all the countries in the EU, non-salaried workers work more hours than salaried-workers but in markedly different proportions,” Coe-Rexecode said in its study. 

The gap goes down to 26 percent in Germany, 21 percent for Italy, and 8 percent in the UK.

What about part-time workers?

Compared to other major European countries, French part-time workers actually work quite a lot: 6 percent more hours than the European average, to be precise. 

They worked 981 hours in 2015 (about 60 percent of full-time), as opposed to 889 hours in Germany and 873 in the UK.

So yes, salaried workers in France are trailing behind their European neighbors in terms of time put in at work.

But to be fair, more hours doesn't always equal more productivity, and numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Despite its faults, there are still plenty of reasons why France is a great place to work. 

Here's why France is a better place to work than the UK or the US




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