As I watched my husband regularly working from his laptop at night and as I found myself putting in a few hours from home on Sundays, I began to wonder: why do we as Americans work so much? Here in Silicon Valley, salaries are surely higher, but this comes with living in an area with million dollar homes on every block that average people can’t afford to buy. So what are we working towards? Can money buy happiness, or is it time off that provides us with this luxury? Let’s compare numbers with our French counterparts:
In France, the average employee enjoys 35 hour work weeks, leisurely 1-2 hour lunches, 6 weeks of paid vacation and laws protecting employees from working after-hours or on Sundays. French women benefit from at least 16 weeks (26 weeks for a third child) paid maternity leave at 100% pay. Currently, fathers get 2 weeks paternity leave, but French president François Hollande recently pushed to move that to 6 months.
In the US, the average workweek is 47 hours, lunch is often eaten in front of the computer screen, employees are lucky to get 2 weeks off and are often expected to be available to work on nights and weekends. Except for 4 states, Americans are offered no guaranteed paid parental leave, although we do have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which provides 12 weeks unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons.
With the French provided with more time to spend with family and friends and to relax on their own, it would seem to me that one is better off living in the Hexagon. But why this imbalance? Why is the quality of life and the balance between work and private life protected so much more in France and other European countries than it is in the US?
For one thing, there is much less worker protection in the US, with the possible exception of discrimination laws. Here, one can be hired and fired from one day to the next. In France, you have a 2 to 4 month trial period for hiring someone, and the laws on firing someone are fairly complex. As the second richest country in the world (congratulations, China), it’s clear that the US has devoted itself to the dollar at all costs.
What the US government and American companies haven’t figured out yet is that working longer hours isn’t making us more productive. US workers are often more stressed out and less healthy than our European counterparts. Without as much paid time off, parental leave, affordable childcare or worker protection laws, we Americans are left to fend for ourselves instead of benefitting from social programs and time to unwind that would help to keep us satisfied and productive both in the workplace and in life.
For more information on holiday working hours around the world, check out this article at findmyshift.com.
Qu’en pensez-vous? What do you think? Will the US ever take a hint from France that balanced workers are more productive workers?
© Jessica’s Franglais 2015