Did you know that the French indulge in an average of 16.4 hours of “me time” a day, on activities like sleeping, eating and socialising? That’s more than any other OECD country. This enviable way of life means France enjoys a comparatively high standard of living. It is spread more evenly throughout the population and thus, well-being is a concept not just confined to the rich.
More surprising is the positive impact this lifestyle has on productivity in the office. A recent study found that when the French are at work they’re more productive than their British and American colleagues. This is particularly true in the afternoons after a long lunch break. Taking longer holidays is also the norm. It’s not unusual for them to spend the whole month of August en vacances. For the French, taking time off is an art form and one from which we can learn a lot.
Demand, demand, demand
But with our fast paced world making increasing demands upon the global work force, the French way of life is increasingly under threat. Attempts by the French government to give employers more control over how they hire, fire and grant time off to employees have been met this year with persistent strikes and demonstrations. Despite these efforts some reforms were adopted in July, ironically when protestors were taking a summer break from protesting. Strikes are also currently affecting Eurostar, with employees planning two weekends of walkouts in August (one over the British bank holiday) designed to inflict maximum chaos. So if you’re planning a cheeky weekend in Paris any time soon, check the timetables to avoid any holiday hell.
If I was a Eurostar employee that worked long shifts in August, I’d be pretty narked off as well. Amble down the Champs Elysées in the summer months and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the whole city is on holiday. Depending on who you speak to, August is the best and worst time to visit the city, for it is largely devoid of Parisians. (Check out this video to see the post-apocalyptic levels of desertion). Many boulangeries shut, theatres close down and decamp to the theatre festival in Avignon. Restaurants too will shut (though with several thousand in the capital, there are still plenty to choose from. Paris by Mouth has a helpful list). So many people travel from the city to the countryside that TV news programmes will broadcast a diagrammatic traffic forecast much like the weather forecast.
The benefit of these longer breaks of course is that it is a proper break. It gives time to focus on the important things in life like friends and family. You could even develop actual hobbies outside of work. Equally important, it’s an opportunity to recharge. You’re forced to detach from those work emails pinging on your smart phone like Chinese water torture. A four-week break means that work projects have to be wrapped up, passed on to someone else, or put off until September (la rentrée as our French friends call it). The genius part of the French collective conspiracy to flee the office for so long, is that if everybody does it, it becomes accepted. Say goodbye to those judgmental colleagues who never take time off and make you look bad. They’re the weirdos in this story.
The right to enjoy living
Anglophone countries seem to be compromising on work life balance. They’re putting in longer hours at the office and taking fewer holidays. Though some argue the French put up too much of a fight against this trend, strangling their economy, it is undeniable that they’re fighting for something admirable: the right to enjoy living. It may sound strange, but taking time off is both a discipline and a skill. If you’re a type A millennial like me, it can be surprisingly difficult to achieve. (I am technically typing out this article on holiday, and the irony is not lost on me). Learning to switch off and value down time has significant benefits for our well-being and productivity. We can look to our neighbours across the channel to learn from their example.