France at a Glance
Working in France
Working in France is a pleasant experience for most expats, despite recent attempts to raise the retirement age, which were met with passionate protests by the French population. However, most employees in France still enjoy good working conditions and the benefits of one of the best welfare states in the world. However, unemployment figures have been on the rise.
Some experts believe that the relatively high unemployment rate – about 10% in general and 27% in the age group under 25 – may be partly due to the inflexibility of the labor market. Despite obeying the laws of a free market economy, this labor market is still characterized by government interventions and state enterprises in some key sectors.
Other economists blame some of the perks enjoyed by employees working in France, e.g. high minimum wages and an early retirement age. However, the fact that 32 of the world´s 500 biggest companies are French, with a considerable share of their staff working in France, indicates that it is certainly a global player in economic terms.
Agriculture has always been a key sector: It currently employs around 4% of the active population in France. The country’s position as the leading producer of agricultural goods in Europe (and the second biggest agricultural exporter globally) is, of course, partly based on its world-famous wines.
It is also an illustrious exporter of fashion and the home of haute couture. Paris has always acted as a magnet for young fashion designers and talents who would like to enhance their career prospects by working in France.
Tourism is another major sector providing plenty of job opportunities. As the world´s top tourist destination, France attracted about 79 million tourists in 2010! Moreover, Disneyland Paris is a favorite destination among young people interested in working in France during holiday periods.
However, if you want to work in France outside a traditional foreign assignment, you should also be aware of the country’s economic issues. Growth has been stagnating, and competitiveness is said to be decreasing, due to a lack of innovation. In 2013, sectors like construction and vehicle engineering had to cope with particular difficulties.
Working in France is regulated by strict employment laws. Contracts between employers and most employees are of permanent duration (except for seasonal workers, maternity covers, etc.), and everyone working in France is entitled to five weeks of annual leave. In addition, there are special holiday allowances for deaths in the family, as well as the wedding of employees.
The 35-hour week was introduced in two stages between 2000 and 2002 in order to combat unemployment, but subsequent laws have accorded more flexibility to companies and their employees. Now a certain amount of annual overtime is legal for those working in France, but free days or extra payment must be granted in exchange.
Partly owing to good childcare facilities, the quota of working women is higher in France than in the rest of Europe. The government also started a campaign to abolish all formal gender inequalities (e.g. wage inequalities). In general, though, the business environment tends to be on the conservative and formal side.
Hierarchy and ceremony are valued highly among people working in France, and an authoritarian style of leadership prevails. This does, however, not prevent employees from having lengthy and heated debates in business meetings, even if the decision might ultimately rest with one person. At least in big companies, socializing across various hierarchy levels is not all that common.