French not Lazy… but Productive


Just in case you got the notion that France was not a productive country, a recent analysis by Swiss bankers UBS should set the record straight on work, life, money and time once and for all

In February of this year, the chief executive of American tyre manufacturer Titan wrote a stinking letter to the French industry minister Arnaud Montebourg that was published in French newspapers, complaining that French workers were the model of laziness:

“The French work force gets paid high wages but only works three hours,” wailed American tyre tycoon Maurice Taylor Jr. in response to a plea from the French government to take over a troubled Goodyear tyre factory in France. “They have one hour for their breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three… I told this to the French unions to their faces and they told me, ‘That’s the French way!'”

Taylor went on to say how he had visited the factory in question on a number of occasions and his final words on the matter were:”How stupid do you think we are?”

But a new survey from UBS shows that although the average French worker continues to work the least amount of hours per year in the world, he is also a model of productivity, blowing away much of the competition, including that of the Americans.

The survey involved a number of cities worldwide and found that people worked an average of 1,902 hours. Unsurprisingly, cities in Asia and the Middle East were amongst the ones with the longest hours in the year. In France’s two largest cities Lyon and Paris, however, the number of hours per year worked by the average worker came out at the lowest in the survey – 1,582 and 1,594 respectively.

Although Mr Taylor might be instantly inclined to scream “Aha!” at such numbers that seemingly illustrate precisely how lazy the French are, there is more to the figures than meets the eye.

According to official statistics, France is in the 18th position in the world in terms of GDP per capita, at $36,500 per person. The French achieve this lofty enough position in the world wealth-creation league but they do it without breaking into too much of a sweat compared with other nations in the developed world.

All worked out? Take a lesson from the French and work on those WLBQs

All worked out? Take a lesson from the French and work on those WLBQs

The wealth they create for each of their citizens is achieved by working 16% less hours than the average world citizen and a whopping 25% less than their Asian peers. As an addendum, much of the wealth that the average French citizen creates is put into the social and physical infrastructure of the country. Or, put another way, French pay high taxes. But food and wine are cheap and public services are high making the standard of living feel a lot higher than the 18th position might suggest.

This all points to a level of work efficiency that appears not to be replicated anywhere else to quite the same degree. If one were to give this phenomenon a name, one might call it the work-life-balance-quotient, or the WLBQ for short.

Calculating a WLBQ is a matter of dividing GDP per capita by the hours worked. In the case of France, the figure

Jaloux? Moi? Maurice Taylor with a recent smile

Jaloux? Moi? Maurice Taylor with a recent smile

comes out at $25.10 (dividing 36,500 by 1,453). In the case of the average American worker who slaves away for a total of 1,792 hours per year to produce his $44,150 of GDP, his WLBQ is a slightly pathetic-looking $24.60.

Although that figure is only $0.50 off the golden French standard, it adds up to millions of the same currency when you add all the workers together. Maybe that’s the example that we in Ireland should be looking at rather than across the Atlantic.

As for Maurice Taylor, there has been no comment yet. Maybe he’s just jealous.

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