'It makes the taxes worth it': Is the work-life balance in France really that good?

Evie Burrows-Taylor
Evie Burrows-Taylor - [email protected]
'It makes the taxes worth it': Is the work-life balance in France really that good?
Photo: AFP

Do the French really have a better work-life balance than other countries? And can foreign workers in France make the most of it? Share your views and experiences with other readers in the comments section below.


One of the (many) appeals of life in France often cited by foreigners who want to move here is the country's superior work-life balance.
"In France people work to live and not live to work," was how one Australian reader put it.
Those working gruelling jobs in Britain and American look to France as a country where -- it is believed -- it is taken as a given that you will work fewer hours and have more leisure and holiday time.
But many may find when they get here that their lifestyles, working hours and number of holidays aren't so different after all and they're still left struggling to balance working the hours considered normal in an office environment in France.
Some who have children even find the struggle of jostling work and life can be more complicated in France.
Members' Q&A: How many holidays do the French really get every year?
Photo: AFP
survey by InterNations, a website for people who live and work abroad revealed that France ranks a fairly unimpressive 34th out of 65 countries worldwide when it comes to work-life balance.
Sixty percent of foreigners living in France questioned for the study were satisfied with their work-life balance and 60 percent were satisfied with their working hours. Some 21 percent of foreigners living in France were unsatisfied with their work-life balance, according to the survey.
And while those figures don't sound too bad they just correspond to the global average, so hardly evidence that France is the place to be for those seeking more life an less work.
In fact France was ranked below the likes of Denmark, Bahrain and Norway, which came first, second and third, respectively. 
And are things slowly going in the wrong direction?
“When it comes to the work-life balance abroad, France has experienced a slight downward trend since 2014. While they ranked 30th out of 61 countries back then, they only come in 35th place out of 65 countries in the latest survey,” comments Internations Co-CEO Malte Zeeck.
One complaint among foreign workers in France are the working hours that see office workers generally start later and finish later, often as late 7.30pm on a normal day.
It seems many English-speaking workers would rather start earlier, have a shorter lunch and get out of the office as soon as possible, rather than hang around until it's dark.
Parents who have to leave their kids at school until after 6pm or hire a nanny to pick them up from school and give them dinner before they get home certainly find this an issue.
“In addition to France’s mediocre ranking for work-life balance, expats also seem to be unhappy with their working hours: 17 percent of the expats living in France are unhappy with this aspect of life abroad. This is just barely a better result than the global average of 20 percent,” said Internations' Malte Zeeck.
Although that said it's worth pointing out that foreign nationals working full time in France only spend an average of 40.9 hours at work, 3.4 hours less than the global average (44.3 h), according to the survey.
But what about that 35 hour week in France?
Well, it turns out the 35 hour week, mocked by some in the UK and US and revered by others, isn't quite as universal as you might have been led to believe. 
Far from meaning that everyone is able to do seven hours of work across a five-day working week, many in France work just as much as before. 
For some, the 35 hour week doesn't even apply -- those who have the status of management (cadre) who are not subject to the legal working week of 35 hours actually put in an average of 43.2 hours a week, according to stats released in 2016.
Most workers in France put in an average of 39.2 hours each week.
In reality the 35-hour legal limit is used as a reference to work out overtime and how many extra rest days (RTT) should be given to workers who put in more than the legal limit.
And while that might sound good, it doesn't necessarily correspond to a balanced life. 
Myth busting: New figures show the French are not actually 'lazy' workers
Photo: AFP
And on top of that, there's certainly a difference between expectation in Paris and the French countryside, with people likely to find that there isn't quite as much of a difference between working life in London and the French capital, apart from perhaps the later starts and later finishes.
Ok, so you might have to work similar hours to before but what about all that wonderful holiday time workers get in France?
Again, this is a bit more complicated and not all French people get two months off each summer, just because the children do.
Something which often surprises foreigners who are looking forward to the generous holidays they've heard so much about is that they might have to wait a while before they can start enjoying them. 
Often workers will not officially be allowed to take holidays during the first year of their jobs, although the rules can be bent and holidays can be taken in advance.
Legally the French are entitled to 25 days of paid leave each year, plus bank holidays, which can number up to 11 in France, compared to 20 days of paid annual leave in the UK.
And of course the US, where there is no statutory minimum paid vacation or paid public holidays, with employers generally deciding how much holiday staff are allowed.
While most foreign workers who come to France are satisfied with their work life balance, others complain that their career prospects take a hit. 
Just 41 percent are satisfied with their career prospects, twelve percentage points less than the global average (53 percent), according to InterNations.
But despite the feeling that sometimes the work-life balance isn't quite what they'd hoped for or imagined, foreigners in France will generally be positive when talking of the jump in quality of life.
Paris-based author Matthew Fraser can account for the fact that living in France will bring about a significant shift in work-life balance
"I've shed the workoholism of my previous career-obsessed existence and now appreciate with epicurian relish the pleasures of each moment," he previously told The Local.
"Life in France places you happily in the present tense, unlike in anglo-Protestant countries where everything is driving madly towards the future.
"The quality of life argument for France is very compelling. I think it's the reason so many expats stay. It makes the high taxes worth it."
Sixteen Paris parks to stay open 24-hours a day during summer
Photo: AFP
And numerous studies show that foreigners in France enjoy a jump in their quality of life
In fact, foreigners who have left France to return to their home country have admitted that the transition can be tough. 
One English woman who moved to the US after living in France told The Local: "In the US your work defines you and leisure comes second," she says.
"Americans don't value the benefits of vacation in the same way or see it as a earned right."
So, while France might not have the perfect work-life balance or even one that lives up to the reputation - it might not be worth rushing home just yet. 
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