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Working Hours and Holidays in France

A key issue for many workers in France is flexible working time, in order to achieve a work-life balance. Negotiating a work/life balance can enable parents to reconcile their work with their family life and, women in particular, to participate in the labour market.

It can also allow workers to take leave to participate in education or training or to take up an interest, hobby or leisure pursuit. This means that workers can reorganise their working lives and working hours around shorter days, weeks, months, or even years.

A law to reduce the statutory working week in France from 39 hours to 35 hours was introduced in 2000, for companies with more than 20 employees and, in 2002, for companies with 20 employees or fewer. Studies by the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggest that France is below the OECD average when it comes to hours worked and consequently French employees have above average leisure time on an average day. Approximately 15 hours per day are dedicated to personal care and leisure (eating, sleeping, etc).

With regard to a reduction in working time, one of the recommendations from France’s National Economic Planning Agency, was that working time should be in line with other demands on time, generated by people’s social and private lives. In this respect, the 35-hour working week appears to be having an impact. An evaluation report submitted by the government shows that the reduction in working time has generally affected employees positively, in terms of both their work and home lives.

National Holidays

There are 11(or 13 in some provinces) national holidays in France. Most offices, businesses and shops in France will close for a Public Holiday however the smaller supermarkets in many towns will open for a few hours in the morning.

There following are fixed (same every year) Public Holidays in France.

1st January – New Year Day
1st May – Labour days
8th May – Victory day
14th July – Bastille Day
15th August each year – Assumption Day
1st November each year – All Saints Day
11th November – Armistice Day
25th December – Christmas Day
26th December – Boxing Day (only in the Moselle, the Bas-Rhin and the Haut-Rhin)

The following are changeable Public Holidays in France:

Good Friday (Easter Friday) and Easter Monday are usually around March –April time,

Ascension Day (40 days after Easter Sunday, always on a Thursday – May time);

Pentacost/Whit Sunday (7th Sunday after Easter – May time); Monday following Pentacost/Whit Monday – May time. During may, there is a holiday nearly every week therefore you will need to check in advance.

Working hours

Working hours are generally Monday to Friday from 8am or 9am to 12:00/12:30 and then from 14:00/14:30 to 18:00. However, as always, it depends where the organisation is located, for example the long lunch break is unusual in Paris and other bigger cities. As mentioned previously in this guide, because of employment legislation the working of overtime is very rare.

Retail shops tend to be open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 to 20:00. Several larger stores have longer opening hours on Thursdays for example Galeries Lafayette in Paris tend to open from 9:30 to 21:00 on Thursdays but they close one hour earlier on other days. On Sundays shops are closed and in smaller cities this might also apply to Saturdays.

Banks tend to follow a similar working pattern and are closed on Sundays. On Saturdays they tend to have shorter opening hours starting later and closing earlier.

Working culture

The working culture in France is guided by principles of hierarchy, traditions and attention to detail. As such, logical reasoning and high levels of analysis are used to guide the culture, which can be seen as slow and procedural.

Work Legislation

France as is the case in many other countries has seen its working culture evolve and despite the respect for traditions, change does happen in accommodating the needs of an industrial economy. A landmark piece of legislation was introduced in 1998 to reduce working hours to 35 per week. One of the consequences of this has been higher employment rates and increased job sharing.

Despite the shorter weekly working times, the hours that people tend to spend at work are longer when compared to other European countries. However, the time spent working during a day does tend to be broken up with a generous lunch break that can last 2 hours. Many smaller businesses in particular in rural areas tend to close for lunch and employees spend this time with their families.

Overtime is also less common in French working culture than in other countries. For example, taking work home and doing it over the weekend is not common practice, but perhaps senior managers might be more likely to do so than ordinary employees.

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