What do we expect from work?

By Emma Brooks

A recent conversation with friends got me thinking about work: what do we want from a job, do we want to be able to work as much as possible, or do we value our holidays more? Having recently worked the equivalent of a French man’s working week in three days, and having worked in France, England and Switzerland, it has often got me wondering about the differences between these countries’ work ethic.

In my opinion, France is the country where people work the least. Ok, this is a really unfair judgment I admit, since some people in France probably do work really hard, and work long hours. But the general picture one gets from the French is one of people who really value their 35 hour working week and having their Sundays free, and who go on strike whenever these privileges are threatened to be taken away from them. A friend of mine once said to me that it was really important for him to be able to have his evenings free in order to do whatever activities he pleased, so as not to be too tired, and that rest was an important thing in life. I felt like saying to him, this is the world of work, this is what being an adult is about! You have to work in order to earn a living, you can’t decide that you don’t want to work today so you can rest. And plenty of people in countries like Switzerland or in England manage perfectly well to do their activities in the evenings after work, whilst working a 42 hour week or more.

For people who live on the Franco-Swiss border, it is a well known fact that pay in Switzerland is better and so, many French people seek jobs there. However a French friend of mine was still pointing out the other day that he would rather work for a smaller salary and be entitled to longer holidays throughout the year thanks to the French restrictions on the amount of hours one can work a week. But in France, as an English friend of mine recently pointed out to me, everything is closed at midday, is closed on Sundays and Mondays, is closed over the better part of the summer and on every bank holiday. This is indeed a very frustrating situation, particularly when you want to get things done. In England and Switzerland on the other hand, people are happily working 42 hours a week or more and are not complaining, shops are open at lunchtime and occasionally on Sundays and people seem to be happy with their allotted holidays.

Although I can understand why people would want longer holidays and shorter working hours, part of me just doesn’t. As I said before, this is the world of work. As adults, we make a conscious decision to either be part of it or not. If we do decide to be a part of it then that does mean making sacrifices about holidays, and personal time out, but it still doesn’t mean that our jobs will be taking over our lives either. One also mustn’t forget that some people are desperate to work and earn as much money as possible and for them, longer working weeks are an advantage. Really it is a question of wanting to have the cake and eat it, but as we all know it’s not possible to do both.

So really, what is to be expected from the world of work? Are we to expect to work hard and give up all our free time, or are we to expect a better treatment of employees and more holidays? Which expectations are the “right” ones, or is there not really a happy medium amongst these examples? Either way, it is interesting to see different countries and their different inhabitants’ approaches to the world of work and what to expect from it.

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