Most French bureaucrats struggle with ‘absurdity’ of their work, survey shows

You find French bureaucracy ridiculous? Don't worry, so do the bureaucrats... according to a survey of French public sector workers.

Most French bureaucrats struggle with 'absurdity' of their work, survey shows
People receive help at the CAF in Lyon. Photo: Philippe DESMAZES / AFP.

It’s common for people interacting with French administration to question the purpose of what they’re being asked to do, but the results of the study, published on Monday, show that the fonctionnaires themselves are almost universally confronted with the same feelings.

Apparently, 97 percent of public sector workers said they had thought, at least once while at work, “That’s absurd… Or if it has a purpose, it’s not the one I signed up for” while 8 in 10 said they were “regularly” or “very frequently” confronted with this feeling of absurdity. The frequency of such thoughts increased with the age of respondents.

The collective Nos service publics represents fonctionnaires – public sector employees which includes civil servants and bureaucrats but also teachers, healthcare workers and certain types of police officers.

According to the collective, which was created earlier this year to highlight public administration’s failure to meet people’s needs, the results represent a “profound malaise” in the public sector.

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They questioned 4,555 people online between May and August. Since the survey was voluntary, employees in positions of responsibility are over-represented in the study, but its authors say respondents came from “all ages, all positions and all sectors”.

Lack of funding

Concerns over salaries and career advancement come second to frustrations encountered when executing tasks – “a lack of resources, disagreement over the relevance of received instructions, a loss of meaning to their task”.

In total, 64 percent of respondents cited a lack of resources, rising to three quarters in the justice, health and education sectors. Overall, this was the most common difficulty faced by civil servants.

Nos services publics have also published over 2,500 written accounts of public sector workers who provided specific details concerning their working conditions.

One pediatrician in a newborn intensive care unit spoke of having to “treat patients on an assembly line, without being able to take the time to speak to the families”.

“I’m being made to give class to 35 pupils at a time, while prioritising oral interaction,” said Isabelle, a high school English teacher.

Many people also cited the weight of bureaucracy as well as contradictory orders, which combine to waste time and prevent them from achieving their primary aims.

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“We are asked to do more and more paperwork, and we have less and less time to correctly prepare the class,” one primary school teacher wrote.

An employee at the justice ministry added: “Constant changes of priorities and direction, a lack of coherence in contradictory orders and commands.”


Although the reality of working in the public sector is often not what people expect, 68 percent of people who answered the survey cited “serving the general interest” as one of their reasons for joining.

Once in the job, this motivation often comes up against “the impression of serving a particular interest (whether it’s the manager’s, the politician’s, or a campaign’s), rather than the general interest” according to the study.

Just over half of people said the public interest was a factor in their decision to continue working in the public sector. The “difficulty of changing” was the main reason people continued to work in National Education, however.

You can read the testimonies on the Nos services publics website.

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EXPLAINED: Why it just became a little easier to be self-employed in France

Life might be a bit easier for self-employed workers in France now that a new law has gone into effect. Here are the details.

EXPLAINED: Why it just became a little easier to be self-employed in France

Over three million people are considered “self-employed” in France, and their lives might have become a bit easier now that the “law in favor of independent professional activity” has officially come into force. 

Voted on in February 2022 under Macron’s first mandate, the law, which came into effect on May 15th, seeks to create a simpler and, above all, more protective legal, fiscal and social environment for “artisans, shopkeepers, micro-entrepreneurs and people of liberal professions.”

Who exactly does the changes cover?

The changes could impact France’s three million “travailleurs independents” which includes all kinds of self-employed workers working in many different professions.

The one self-employed status in France probably most familiar to readers is micro-entrepreneur but many kinds of small business owners and contractors are also considered travailleurs independents.

Now, here are the changes worth knowing about:

A better protection and separation of personal assets

One of the most important changes this law will bring is a more clear separation between personal and professional assets. As of May 15th, those registered as ‘self-employed’ (micro-entrepeneur/ entreprise individuelle) will see their personal and professional assets automatically separated. This means that should there be professional financial constraints, particularly involving creditors, the self-employed person’s personal assets will be more protected from being seized if the individual runs  into problems. This includes places of residence, personal vehicles, and movable assets. 

However, Assembly rapporteur Marie-Christine Verdier-Jouclas warned previously: “We should not expect miracles, because the most important creditors, including banks, will continue to require special securities on certain assets of entrepreneurs, including their personal property.”

Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said: “We expect banking institutions to take all responsibility in the implementation of this reform. We will be very vigilant.”

It will be easier to claim the unemployment benefit for the self-employed

Self-employed people will now have an easier time claiming the “allowance of independent workers” (L’allocation pour les travailleurs indépendants) which is essentially an unemployment benefit specifically directed at the self-employed.

Now, they must simply be able to show that they have involuntarily lost employment – meaning the activity they were performing as a self-employed person is no longer viable. Previously, self-employed workers were required to be going through the legal process of “receivership or judicial liquidation” to claim this allowance. Now, a ‘cessation of activity’ can be certified by a trusted third party, such as a chartered accountant. 

In order to qualify for this benefit, self-employed workers now must prove at least €10,000 of income spanning over one of the last two years, in contrast to the previous rule that required a minimum of €10,000 on average over the last two financial years. The benefit will depend on the earnings of the worker, with the maximum amount being €800 per month, and the minimum being €600.

The benefit can be paid for up to six months (182 days), and it is not renewable. 

It will be easier access to professional training (the ‘CFP’) 

In return for the contribution to professional training (CFP) to which they are subject, self-employed workers can, under certain conditions, benefit from total or partial financing of their professional training. But for this, they must be patient. With the NAF code of their activity, they must identify the training access fund (FAF) to which they belong. To make their task easier, the legislator has listed the different FAFs on the website.

If you are wondering whether your professional activity fits into this definition, but you are not sure, you can reach out to your local Chambres du Commerce et de l’Industrie. Be advised that some fields, like practicing law, for example, cannot claim this status.