Are the French 'lazy'?

Apologies in advance, but I’m on travel atm so might not be able to post that much to the thread. I’ll try and get back as often as I can, and certainly I’ll be reading and following what I hope is a discussion on the article I’m going to link too in a sec. I also apologize for any formatting weirdness, but when I post from the iPad it never comes out quite right.

Anyway, on to the discussion. Was reading this article from CNN talking about an American executive and his comment to French officials. Basically, he’s talking about French labor practices and the stranglehold he is implying that French Unions have on the government and on business in France. I guess there was a bit of a blow up over this letter this guy wrote (no idea how big it was in France itself…any French 'dopers give a read on this?), but here are some things from the article:

The real question for debate isn’t actually are the French lazy…I don’t think that’s really what this guy was getting at, but instead, are French labor practices strangling their industry and business, and what, if anything should they do? Or, is this not really an issue at all, and really everyone else needs to learn a lesson from the French and adopt their practices as much more enlightened? Some additional things from the article:

Now, I’ll be the first to admit specific ignorance here…I don’t know more than generally about France (I’ve been there several times, but an IT engineers perspective isn’t exactly germane to the overall business viability), their labor laws, or how vibrant or not so vibrant their economy is…or how much of the problems specified in this article are systemic, or have to do with the general problems the EU is having. Any input would be helpful on this, especially from French 'dopers (though other European 'dopers would also be interesting to get their take) who want to give their insights on the issues.

Thanks in advance, and sorry about it if I can’t fully participate. I’ve been really falling off lately on my ability to post as RL has increasingly taken over my limited free time, but I still enjoy reading other 'dopers thoughts, even when I disagree with them.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in France, and my experience is: Americans know how to work; The French know how to live.

As for the 35 hr work-week, didn’t they get rid of that a few years ago because it didn’t work out well?

They have the 19th highest GDP per capita, so they’re the 19th most productive people on Earth (probably better then that actually, since some of the countries above them are petro-states or tax-havens).

From memory, they come out as pretty close to #1 in GDP/worker-hour, so while they might take more vacation time, the French are arguably the most productive workers when they’re working when they aren’t on vacation.

ETA: googling, France is #6 in GDP/worker-hour

I work for a multinational HQ’ed outside Paris.

We’re an upstream oil/gas contractor with offices in Houston, Calgary, London, Singapore, etc. And there are ex-pats from all over the world in each of the major centers.

The workers in France do seem more efficient than we are in Houston. We certainly work many more hours, but we’re not especially more productive. They also get 5 weeks vacation in their employment contracts from the start (we don’t get 5 until year 10).

I have heard the occasional gripe from some of them the few times I’ve gone over there that they need special permission to work longer hours, and it’s usually not granted. Our compatriots in London also say security escorts them out if they’re in the building past normal working hours.

Our most profitable division is actually mostly in France along the Mediterranean coast.

Based on conversations with friends at Schlumberger, their experience is similar.

Of course, we’re a largish multinational, not a small business, oil/gas may be different from other industries, anecdote =/= data, and all the other usual disclaimers.


If you yanks weren’t so bloody arogant and chauvenistic, you might learn something important.

Please tell me you’re a hipster of the highest degree and the above statement was, like, ironic.

I’ve spent the last few months working in France and I saw it mentioned in several newspaper covers. The general reaction appeared to be along the lines of “what an asshole! Oh well, his loss :rolleyes:” In general, what little indignation there was didn’t last long.
Needing permission from Labor courts is standard in Spain when there will be layoffs or reductions in workers’ hours and pay. The company presents a plan, the workers’ reps may present another or agree with the company’s (yes, it does happen), the court mediates. It is possible for both parties to be in agreement but for the court to come up with touch-ups, too; even if the plan is eventually accepted as is, it needs to be reviewed.

This. Many times this.
There’s more to life than “productivity”.

There appears to be much greater equality of force between employers and employees in France (and Europe in general). In the US the veneer of “opportunity” hides a system where all the pressure of culture and law are in the service of the employer. We work here out of shame of not working. We overwork ourselves because we are “free.”

The result is, of course, that we are incredibly unproductive. Without our technological advantages Americans would be the worst workers in the world.

I was in Germany a few years back and there was a show on tv about French winemakers. They were complaining that they were getting priced out of the market by wines from other countries and arguing that the government should pay them to keep their vineyards open. The attitude being that they had been making wine for hundreds of years, and that should be able to continue doing so. Even if no one wanted to buy it.

On the other hand:
France has 69 of the 500 biggest companies of the world in 2010
France ranks 4th in the Fortune Global 500, behind the USA, Japan and China. Paris is the second most important location in the world for the headquarters of the world’s 500 largest companies
There are more Fortune Global 500 company headquarters in Paris than in Beijing, New York, London or Munich, but fewer than in Tokyo.
France is the world’s 5th largest national economy by nominal GDP
Europe’s 2nd largest national economy by nominal GDP
Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report ranked France the wealthiest European country with 2.6 million millionaires
World’s 4th wealthiest nation in aggregate household wealth.

Where did those technological advantages come from?

The US has the largest, most adaptive and productive econonomy in the world. However, in many ways American’s attitude about work is fucked up. We value wealth and status and celebrity much more than we value the creation of wealth. And I do think we don’t treat employees well. Many business owners and managers treat their employees like they are idiot children that must be tolerated in their pursuit of great wealth instead of as valued contributors (HR team building bullshit aside).

OTOH, many employees also act like idiot children who would happily slack off or steal from the company if they weren’t watched constantly. It’s created a bit of a vicious circle IMHO where Americans feel if they aren’t the “superstar”, the job isn’t worth doing.

It’s not equality, the ‘force’ is skewed heavily toward labor, or rather organized labor. Consider this from the OP’s article:

That is not equality. Peugot and its shareholders are assuming all of the risks, yet it’s the union-dominated government that decides Peugot’s business strategies.

Americans work more hours than Europeans because we get more benefit from it than they do. See Edward Prescott’s work on the subject. A high tax burden means the return on an hour’s labor is lower, so people work fewer hours.

“Incredibly unproductive”?

Japan Productivy Center has the U.S. as the third most productive workforce in the world.

The Conference Board has the U.S. fourth.

The OECD has the U.S. fourth.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics has the U.S. as the most productive nation in the G7.

That technological edge is our comparative advantage.

These two sites contradict each other. The productivity site ranks 2 higher tax countries as even more productive than the US.

And if you look at countries like Japan or South Korea, they work about as many hours as the US without a lower tax rate (actually, a marginally higher one in the case of Japan).

Cultural queues seem to explain the discrepancy much better.

I believe everybody here is conflating “productivity” with “efficiency”. The two aren’t the same.

As I mentioned above, our people in France work fewer hours than us here in Houston, but profitability / capita doesn’t appear to be appreciably better here. It’ll vary by industry but it’s certainly not a 1-1 thing.

It’s correct and what’s more the world knows it. I’ve never come across anyone from anywhere who wants the US working laws and culture - I even know people use the admonishment ‘you work like an American’. Not many but it has been used, esp. by wifes in the context of family time.

My own view is we have had the 8-hour working day for between 100-150 years. We’ve had industrialisation, computerisation and now the post-industrial age.

I see the owners of capital getting wealthier on the back of current work practices and I don’t see the balance between work/life improving. I do see a lot of bullshit propaganda about ‘the American dream’ and wealth.

It isn’t the French that have it wrong.

In different parts of America you will hear people complain about the people in other parts being lazy. People from different eras will call people from other eras lazy. Different professions will call each other lazy. There’s no surprise in any group of people trying to characterize another group as lazy, and cherry picking the data to prove their point.

They are measuring different things: labor supply, and productivity. If you read Prescott’s article, he includes Japan. See Table 2; it doesn’t contradict his findings. It does not include Korea, as Prescott used G7 nations.

Hours worked and productivity are related, but you are correct, it’s not a 1:1 direct correlation.

It’s not even close. Automation is the key driver of productivity today, and if you automate a factory and get rid of 50% of the workforce, that doesn’t mean the remaining 50% are going to be working twice as many hours to produce the same amount of goods.

Absolutely. And there’s no reason why Great Antibob’s French division can’t be just as productive in fewer hours than the Houston division. He’s right, that’s a matter of efficiency.

Well, I want them, so you’ve come across at least one.

It’s not bullshit. GE 1.1 Median equivalised income of OECD countries.

Annual median equivalised disposable household income in USD at current prices and current PPPs in 2007, rounded to nearest thousand:

United States: $31,000
France: $20,000

Sounds like they have it wrong if they want to sell their tire factories to foreign companies.

Its all a continuum. From the American perspective the French may appear lazy, while from their perspective the Americans are wage slaves. Meanwhile from the American perspective the workers in China are being exploited, while it may be from the Chinese perspective our 40 hour work week with regular breaks and paid vacation is lazy.

In general I think the world would be a better place if the French model was universal. With the rises in technological efficiency here is clearly enough labor available that we would be able to fulfill everyone’s needs with shorter hours and more leisure time. But since exploiting workers means better profits the Chinese model is more likely to prevail.

And that is exactly why we should have powerful Unions.