French workers have provoked both envy and derision for their iconic 35-hour workweek, the shortest in Europe. Now, that portrait of the genteel Gallic employee, leisurely breaking for lunch and walking out the door without a care in the world at the end of the workday, is being called into question by government-backed labor reform proposals.
CNBC reported that protests erupted Wednesday as the administration of French president Francois Hollande pushed for changes that would, among other things, eliminate the 35-hour workweek, cut overtime for working in excess of 35 hours a week, and give companies more leeway to fire and lay off workers.
Supporters of a longer workweek for the French say it would make the country more competitive in a global labor market, and nudge companies into becoming more willing to contract with workers for longer periods of time. Companies are reluctant to extend long contracts to workers because the law today tends to side with employees if they’re dismissed, CNBC explained.
But before you jump on the “lazy French” bandwagon, consider this: According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American workweek is actually less than the French workweek, clocking in at an average 34.4 hours in February. For nonsupervisory employees, it’s even lower at just under 34 hours. In fact, out of 16 different industry sectors the BLS tracks, people only work more than 40 hours a week in four of them.
Note that the BLS data is based on the hours of all American workers–part-timers included. The average full-time American worker puts in 47 hours a week, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.
Still, it’s not necessarily about the hours you put in; it’s about the work you accomplish in those hours, and the corporate culture in which you do your job. According to The Guardian, French workers are actually more productive than their British counterparts, although the latter group has a longer workweek. “Higher job security in France means people are more likely to stay with the same employer for longer, leading to a better understanding of the company’s needs and greater confidence in the role,” the article explained.