Is Our Long Hour Culture making us Les Miserables?

Conference Business Phone

Tumble outta bed
And stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
And yawn and stretch and try to come to life
Jump in the shower
And the blood starts pumpin
Out on the streets
The traffic starts jumpin
With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5

In a scene played out in many, many homes each morning, a mum struggles to get her bag, her baby, her baby’s bag and her coffee into the car at 7.20am. It is a race to get to day-care bang on 7.29, so you can hand your bub over to someone, before sitting in the car in traffic, hoping and praying you can get into the office by 8.30am.

Epping Road was quite a good run and you make it. You slog your guts out, putting out fires, listening in to mind numbing, stab inducing conference calls, while some boring prick from Melbourne bangs on about logistics, all the while rolling your eyes subliminally and wishing you could be anywhere else. Even cleaning public toilets at a Curry Festival would have to be better than this?

You eat your lunch at your desk because you need to leave at 5.20pm ON THE DOT or you will risk being late to collect your child. And then you get the email.

A meeting has been called for 5pm to discuss sales projections for your latest project with a long-winded manager who adores the sound of his own voice.

How do I know about this scene? I lived it for years.

So Dolly, excuse me for a moment, as I sit and reflect how things might have been a little easier if indeed, we worked nine to five.

Bugger that, let’s all move to France!

In France the working week is capped at 35 hours. It is illegal to work more than ten hours a day. You get 5 weeks annual leave a year, 16 weeks maternity leave and here’s the kicker…

It is now illegal to conduct digital business after 6pm! That means once you leave the office, all bets are off. Down tools, grab a glass of Grenache and tell your boss you will deal with it in the morning. And your boss has to agree with you, while encouraging you to switch off all of your work technologies, whether that be your smart phones and other screens that you might be tempted to look at when you should be at home discussing the virtues of work life balance with your beloved.

Back in the days then I was a cubicle jockey, I had to occasionally prepare some presentations from home as I had had to leave early to avoid the ten dollar a minute fine that you get for being late to pick up your baby. I had a clunky laptop with a dial up modem, which took forever to connect. I would beaver away for hours until my eyes would start doing the typing.

But in France, is it a question of working smarter, not harder?

According to the florally named Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development * rests and pants * (that we shall from now on refer to as the OECD) France might not be pulling in the big hours over the photocopying machine, but they are rated the sixth most productive country out of the 34 surveyed.

So what are they doing? What is their secret to owning their ‘down time’?

They socialise.
Dinners with family and friends are high up on the French’s list of priorities. And because they are not busy flogging their guts out for the man 40 hours a week, they do not feel inclined to get home from work and collapse on the couch with a takeaway. The French spend two hours a day eating and drinking.

They sleep.
The French punch out an average of 8.5 hours of snooze a night.

They shop.
For 32 minutes everyday. Now that might not seem much, but it is most in the OECD countries.

And they live a long time!
Our Japanese sisters bow out on average at the age of 90 while our French ladies like to hang on until 86. Not to shabby, non?

There is no doubt that the French work smarter and not harder. Combine untying the after hours work shackles that we know take as normal, throw in some wine and croissants, mix it with a good dose of shut eye while ducking into the shops each day, well it makes me ask the question.

Is Australia’s Long Hour Culture making us Les Miserables?

Be honest. What does your working week look like? What is your job?


This post first appeared on The Hoopla. For todays column, please click here.