In this blog article, we’ll provide some key insights on the French workplace to help you understand what to expect when working in France as an employee.
Moving to a new country can be an exciting but daunting experience, especially when you’re coming to work. France is a country with a rich history and cultural heritage, and it is also home to one of the most distinct work cultures in the world. Whether working in a French office or remotely with French colleagues, you need a basic understanding of French work culture to make your transition as smooth as possible.
The French aren’t as obsessed with punctuality as some other nationalities, but it is considered a sign of respect to arrive on time for meetings and appointments. The amount of time before you’re considered ‘late’ depends on the formality of the meeting, and here in the South of France, the quart d’heure Montpellierain is well-known (15 mn margin). But being late without good reason is seen as a lack of consideration for others, so it’s important to let people know in advance whenever possible..And make sure to plan on arriving early, so you have some buffer for traffic jams or public transportation issues.
Work-life balance is greatly valued
The French value their free time, and they work to live, not live to work. As such, they place a high value on work-life balance. You may find that work hours are shorter than in some other countries with 35 hours per week on average. As a French employee, you’re expected to take your vacation time, which is a minimum of five weeks a year. Moreover, it’s not uncommon for businesses to close for several weeks during the summer months, especially in August. Once the work day is over, or you are on vacation, as a French employee you can’t be required to respond to work emails and phone calls by your employer.
In French culture, lunch is the main meal, so lunch breaks are typically long enough for a hot, sit-down meal, lasting between one and two hours. It’s common to share lunch with colleagues or clients, and eating a sandwich at your desk is not only considered negatively, it is forbidden by the law. For lunch you can either eat at your company’s cafeteria (if there is one), bring your own lunch to eat in a dedicated space or go out to eat at a restaurant.
French business etiquette is rather formal, and it’s always better to err on the side of formality than to be seen as disrespectful. It’s customary to address people by their formal title, such as Monsieur or Madame, until invited to use their first name. Handshakes are the norm in business situations, and it’s considered polite to greet everyone individually when entering a room. Nowadays, some people feel that using these titles is outdated, but it will be received as a form of respect, so don’t worry! Of course, things are less formal with colleagues at your same level, where usually first names and the informal tu are used.
French culture and customs
General French culture and customs in society also extend to the workplace, so being aware of cultural differences can help you adapt your behavior accordingly. For example, it’s common to shake hands when greeting someone, you always greet everyone in the room, even if it’s only by saying bonjour. It’s also customary to say goodbye to everyone when leaving. Be open to learning about French culture and customs, and you’ll find that it’s easier to integrate into the workplace and society.
Networking is key
Networking is essential in France, so be sure to attend social events and get to know your colleagues and business partners. Building personal relationships is key to doing business anywhere, and since French culture is more formal, it can take time to establish trust and rapport. If you’re invited to a business dinner or other social event, it’s important to dress well and be on your best behavior.
French people tend to dress more formally in general, so it’s especially the case in professional environments. Dressing well is a sign of respect for the people you work with, and it can also help you make a good impression. Avoid wearing casual or sloppy clothes in professional settings. The dress code will really depend on the company culture, but again, it’s better to err on the side of too formal than too casual.
The French place a strong emphasis on hierarchy, so it’s important to respect the authority of those above you in the workplace. This means addressing people by their proper titles and using formal language when appropriate. It’s also important to remember that decision-making tends to be centralized, with those at the top making the final decisions. It’s important to respect the hierarchy and to act appropriately for your place within the company.
Communication is direct
French people tend to be direct in their communication, so don’t be surprised if someone speaks to you bluntly. Eloquence and articulate communication are also valued in French culture, and it’s not uncommon to engage in discussions and debates during business meetings, lunch or even during the coffee break. However, it’s important to be respectful and avoid interrupting others when speaking. French value honesty and transparency, and they appreciate it when others are the same way. It’s also important to note that the French language can be quite formal, so be sure to use the appropriate forms of address.
While it’s not necessary to speak French fluently to work in France, having a basic understanding of the language is considered polite. French is the official language of business in France, and it’s important to have some knowledge to communicate effectively with colleagues and clients. We have published an article dedicated to the workplace vocabulary in French, go check it out for some essential work vocabulary.
If you’re planning to work in France, it’s essential to understand the French work culture to make your transition as smooth as possible. At Renestance, we understand the challenges of moving to a new country and can help you with your relocation journey. From finding accommodation to understanding the local culture, we can provide you with the support you need to settle into your new home. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you with your project.
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All articles by: Leslie Belliot