Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Vive La Difference! French Versus US Tech Workplace Habits - Which Is Best?

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 9, 2009

On my ZDNet column I recently wrote about a Silicon Valley and French based startup that had contacted me on a Friday to introduce me to its new service. I noticed that there was a problem with the javascript for its widget.

They were very glad that I had spotted the bug and promised to get back to me toot suite. They did. They said their French developer team had gone home and they wouldn't be able to fix the problem until Monday.

[Please see: Where are the French code warriors when it's "Le Weekend?"]

They did fix it on Monday. But is the French way of keeping work and non-work balance right?

This startup is launching its service and its developer team is MIA - it could have been a simple fix that took just minutes instead of nearly 3 days. Potential customers/users these days won't take a second bite at the cherry -- why risk the launch? Why not insist the team be 24/7 on this important occasion?!

I'm all about the work and non-work balance thing . . . but times have changed and it is now all grouped into Life whether we like it that way or not.

But it must be said that France, despite its 37 hour week and its stalwart support of "Le Weekend" has not yet sank and vanished below the waves. So, is the US or French work place attitude the right one?

Here are some responses to my original post (I love the last one.):

Eleutherios:

My niece is a bio-technology engineer in France. She told me once that her company has its employees badge in and out. I asked why they're so worried people would not work enough hours, and she responded, pas du tout, they do that to make sure nobody works over 37 hours a week.

Because she can't do all she has to do in 37 hours per week, she sneaks work out to finish it at home. I'm not kidding! No wonder their economy is in the toilet. Nobody really works over there, and when they do, there's always the threat of a strike (which they call "a day of action"). Unbelievable!

sm209:

The fiction:

"No wonder their economy is in the toilet. Nobody really works over there, and when they do, there's always the threat of a strike (which they call "a day of action"). Unbelievable!"

The facts:

France - 5th largest economy in the world by GDP (2008), ahead of the UK in 6th, with a smaller working population than the UK. Their GDP per capita is 2% behind that of the US. Not bad for a country that takes two hour lunches, works 37 hours a week, has endless national holidays and basically shuts for the whole of August.

They can do that and still have a wonderfully relaxed lifestyle. They might be infuriating at times, but hey, I know who's got it right.

lbogardis:

Having lived here for the last 9 years, I can sympathise with both sides of the argument. I think the management of the programmers is more to blame in this respect rather than the social contract between the government and the populace.

I'm in networking and the 24/7 service is firmly entrenched for those enterprises who wish to stay in the game in the competitive telco arena here.

However, try and get a meal outside of the 'sweetspot' between noon and 13:30 and you'll soon come a cropper, (unless you like golden arches!)

DavidSJQ:

I suggest that those of you who think France is an economic mess go and visit. It has its problems, too, but its health service is light years ahead of the US one (except for rich Americans).

It may suffer from strikes occasionally but what about a country where huge numbers of people have to work at two jobs for minimal wages in order to survive (the American Nightmare, which is the dark side of the American Dream)?

France works pretty well, in spite of many people there thinking that living is more important than working yourself to death ...

aseries:

What??? No redirect to India? How 1990 is that?

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