Work less, get less. France isn’t the solution.

Penelope Trunk re-posted a letter from Bill, asking that Obama cap the hours as well as the salary.

Bill cites France, working 35 hours a week and being a “fine socialist country” to boot.

I heartily beg to disagree and I’ll tell you why.

Before I go on, this is not meant to be a slag on France, but since Bill has used France as an example, so shall I. But it could apply to any European country that takes it easy – something we all dream about.

If you capped hours here in North America, and told everyone to work 35 hours instead of 40 + over time, it would mean that we have to scale back our lifestyle even more.

Sounds like some skewed logic right? Well everything is connected in some way, much like a human body – the brain works with the heart, and the lungs … you get the picture.

Nothing comes in life for free, because you have to make tradeoffs in everything (no such thing as a free lunch?)… and I’m going to explain why I think 35 hours a week is not as rosy as we imagine it to be.

Anyway, North America, and the U.S. in particular has been built to the superpower that it is, on the basis of how many hours of work their citizens put in.

Now, I am not saying that ALL French people don’t work more than 7 hours a day (believe me, they do), but my point is that they don’t have a cap at 40 hours – it’s at 35. So by default, they’re working 250 hours less a year than the average North American (assuming we all stick to those hours).

Multiply that by the population of France:

61,538,322 x 250 = 15,384,580,500

..and you get that many hours LESS of productivity as a nation.

Multiply that by the population of the U.S. (assuming they adopt this cap):

305,782,212 x 250 = 76,445,553,000

And that’s how much productivity you lose as a nation in hours.

That’s.. a LOT.

At $20/hour, that means that the nation will earn $1,528,911,060,000 less and have that much less in income to spend to fuel the economy.


Well I’ll tell you what up, peachy butt.

If everyone worked less, that means that if you go to the grocery store on the weekend, it won’t be open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. It’d be open from noon until 5 p.m. Or not at all, because employees aren’t working 40 hours any more.

They’re working 35.

So if they work 5 hours less each person, and if they have to work over time to get the job done, the shops will just decide to lessen the hours and adjust them to how many people they already have to avoid hiring another employee, or to avoid paying overtime.

As a side note, in France for example, ice cream shops close up for the summer.



My French sources tell me that a lot of them close for the summer because they want to take their summer vacation as well! They’re entitled to it, by Dieu!

So screw the tourists coming in by the droves from other countries, hot, sweaty and in need of some buttery French-churned ice cream, they’re on vacation, damn it!

And on Sundays, when you expect stores to be open at noon so you can pick up your dry cleaning or get your shoes fixed? Nuh uh.

They only work a couple of days here and there, and in certain seasons or months of the year, you cannot expect that they’ll be open at all, since they may be on vacation without any notice.

(True story! I subscribe to the Paris Blog, and these are all things I read on there).

From what I hear, Americans that move to France are surprised that things aren’t open 24/7, that people just leave for month-long vacations when they feel like it even though they own the shop and work for themselves and they just have to deal with the change of lifestyle that they were used to from the U.S.

So all of that great North American customer service? All of that sweetness you feel when a rep stays on the line longer than his shift just because he wanted to help you find the best computer? Or being able to dial your local butcher to ask him to prepare some chops for you?

Gone. They’re working 40 hours, not 35 and/or working less in general if they own their own business.

Now, let’s throw in some cultural/real-life variables

Executives and employees that I’ve had the pleasure of working with on many projects, would willingly work from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. just to get a deal done, or get one last truck out the door to their clients.

In France, not so much.

They’d work 35 hours a week, or 7 hours a day, and that means that if you include lunch, they work 6 hours a day.

Yes, this is true. I’ve heard from many French people that they really savour and enjoy their lunches. So they take anywhere from 1-2 hours to eat.

Kudos for digestion.

They were miffed coming to Canada they were only allowed 45 minutes to an hour and were on deadline.

So if they have a citizens working 6 hours a day, or 30 hours a week you get an output of: 1500 hours per person, per year.

Versus in North America, citizens could work on average (at all levels) 8 – 9 hours a day because they have to stay late sometimes, or for whatever reason.

Let’s just say they stay at work 8.15 hours a day, including lunch. That’s 40.75 hours a week, or 2037.5 hours a year.

1500 versus 2037.50? Each North American is working more than their French counterpart.

They may not be as or more productive than a French person, but they’re working more.

More on efficiency in a bit.

(P.S. I haven’t even covered the numbers on the fact that an average French gets 8 weeks of vacation a year!)

Anyway, the good thing about working less….

….. that they have to hire more people as a result.

For every 8 people, they have to hire an extra 9th person to pick up that 5 hour slack (if they choose to do so).

Hey, more employment sounds like a good deal to me!

But take into consideration….

…. that companies may not choose to hire a 9th person, and just make 8 people overworked and stressed.


This is where efficiency comes into play, but is not the be-all and end-all.

It’s true, France is way more efficient per person since they only work 35 hours a week – they get more done, in a shorter amount of time, and with a cute accent to boot. And they have what we envy as a better, less hectic, more soulful lifestyle.

But we have to make tradeoffs (time or resources), which is something we seem to forget.

By sheer numbers and extra hours per citizen, the States trumps France, and as a result, they actually envy U.S. for being such a force to be reckoned with with such luxuries available to the average American that the average French almost feels poor in comparison.

The French, cook at home a lot and try to be as frugal as possible. They don’t eat out in restaurants (this is all coming from genuine, bonafide French sources).

They don’t use credit cards in Europe, they shop once a week for fresh groceries, they don’t buy frozen foods, and they simply do not spend any money if they can help it because they:

A) don’t have much of it


B) don’t want to

(Remember, they don’t use credit cards as often as North Americans).

For example, a baguette in France now costs 5 EUR from the last I heard. It used to cost 3 EUR. This has spawned a whole movement to bake your own bread at home because it’s too expensive to eat 5 EUR of bread every morning for breakfast.

It’s more expensive in restaurants now, they’ve all jacked up their prices. As a result, people are now picnicking and calling it “chic” to do so. So many people have shunned going to restaurants that the government actually put a special picnic tax on picnic items.

Where am I going with all of this?

Simple – we would not have everything that we have, as prosperous nations, if we all acted the way the French do.

If we all cut down our output of hours spent at the office, it means that we sell less, people buy less because they have less money, which means companies start laying off their workforce to turn a profit,.. and so on.

You are feeling the effects of what that would be like, RIGHT NOW to live like the French (if the U.S. wasn’t going through this recession), so imagine it being compounded and being worse with people having to cut back in their lifestyle even more because they aren’t working as much!

People have less money by the way, because they work 35 hours a week not 40, and at $20/hour that means you earn $400 LESS each month, or $4800 less a year.

You’d tighten your belt a bit more if you lost $400/month, I guarantee that.

We could not afford our current North American lifestyles (barring the fact that we couldn’t to begin with) without the hours and amount of work that we put in.

It makes me think of riots.

Have you ever seen a real live riot in person or on TV? The sheer force of people stampeding the streets, is more than what a small force of well-equipped, properly trained army men can handle.

These rioters can overpower even a small army tank, just because there are more of them working as a team. Sheer numbers.

So don’t envy the French too much or for the wrong reasons.

(I hear they’re going through a very rough economic time right now. Things are bad there. Really, really bad. Worse than before, if that was possible).

But what if I want to do it anyway?

Then you make a tradeoff, and a choice to do so.If you can choose to make that kind of change in your life and work only 35 hours a week, you’d have a heck of a lot more time on your hands (not including those fabulous 8 weeks of vacation)… of course!

But the downside is you’d have less money to spend as disposable income, and to boot, where you decide you want to spend your meager income may actually be closed for business because they’re on vacation too!


And North America wouldn’t be as powerful as it is now without the extra hours of hard work being put in by all of its citizens.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.