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Differences between French and British companies
Every year, more and more Britons leave their country to set up in France and find a job there. For all of you who try their luck, working is a good way of learning French but also the French corporate culture quite different from the British one. To get familiar with it, here is a bunch of funny anecdotes and useful advice that will help you understand better the environment and get integrated while avoiding surprises.
Strike is a most French typical corporate practice. Most Britons having travelled to France will tell you they have ever found themselves caught in a transportation blockade due to a strike. French strikes had even a global exposure in 1998 when Air France pilots called for a strike that threatened the organization of the World Football Cup and caused the Minister of Transportation himself to take the floor.
For the Britons who go on strike a few times a year, it is always surprising to see repeated French strikes. But what is precisely ironical in the Franco-British disparity is that the French are less unionized but go a lot more on strikes than the Britons.
The C.E. is another typical element in the French corporate world. If you work in a French company, you will certainly be curious to know what a C.E. is. The French corporate committee (C.E) is an important organism you will not break away from, as it organizes all the professional or cultural events employees can take part in like congresses, forums, trips, visits, fairs… French employees are very attached to their committee and would never fail to give the well-known contribution to the C.E.
The Britons do not actually have something like a corporate committee (though C.Es have become more numerous in Great-Britain thanks to Europe’s assistance). The C.E.’s organization is rather based on trade unions. For the excursions employees can go on, the Britons tend more to organize themselves, without the help of any corporate committee.
This is not by chance that British people have not made strike their national sport. It is greatly because the way the Britons negotiate differs from the French’s style. In Great-Britain, meetings are rather seen like occasions to discuss and take decisions, whereas in France people prefer sharing ideas. Most of the time, in France these meetings have no impact on the leaders’ final decision. This attitude confuses more than a British executive who thinks he has reached an agreement, before realizing his French business partners took another decision. The French are not fond of business meetings, they are instead amateurs of business diners and prefer to talk having a good meal. Gastronomy and French wines are on the menu!
But why do the French prefer to talk business outside their companies? French executives relax away from their offices to ease off the tension accumulated at work.
Indeed, in France, higher you are placed in the hierarchy, more tensed is the atmosphere. This is totally the opposite in the U.K. where people are more relaxed. We understand better why when negotiating, the French may dislike the British humour, used precisely for relaxing in most serious moments.
The French are more stressed, but spend on average less time than British people at their offices or workplaces in general.
In France, you work 35 hours maximum per week, opposing the 37 hours maximum in Great-Britain. In principle, a French day’s work always starts at 9am and does not have a precise finishing time. The French give much importance to sticking to scheduled, whereas the Britons mind less about the time spent at work. Contrary to the French, they are more used to doing extra hours.
Schedules also differ from a branch to another like in administrative services. In Great-Britain, schedules are generally more extended and non-stop. In England, many administrative services stay open non from 9am to 7pm non stop. How surprised I was at seeing that some offices open during the traditional lunch break! French schedules are almost always interrupted by the lunch break. Most public administrative services (Universities, prefectures, town halls…) stick to the schedule 9-12am (or11.30am) and 2-4pm. If you work for private companies, you must expect to finish later in the evening (usually at 7pm). State-run or private: whatever company you chose, make sure you still have spare time for yourself!
The divide working time-spare time precisely important in France matters less in Great-Britain. The French see more or less often the “people from work” during their spare time, while English colleagues get together more after work. In the British corporate culture, playing golf or jogging with the boss is something commonplace. The French would never do it as they think there is nothing worse than making friend with the boss. I remember the story of an English man newly appointed CEO of a French company and who understood it at his expenses. Less than two weeks after integrating the company, he decides to organize a get-to-know-you welcoming drink at his place. But his employees, more or less familiar with this kind of meetings out of the office feel uncomfortable. The company head is stupefied when his right-hand takes him aside privately the day after to explain to him that French employees do not like to gather after work. He tries to make him understand that in France, the divide private-professional life is as sacred as the traditional baguette.
The boss or the French’s nightmare! It is incredible to see how different the relation employers-employees is different in France and in Great-Britain. In France, employees are considered to be rather subordinates than collaborators. The sense of authority is less burdensome in Great-Britain where executives are more approachable. When on a business trip in France, the traditional “Mr President” designation make them smile and they prefer to be called by their first name instead.
But corporate codes are not only a matter of positions, it is also a matter of attitude. The relation between men and women are not exactly the same in France and in Great-Britain. The French corporate culture is more Latin and traditional than in Anglo-Saxon companies. People are not afraid to show the gender distinction and make many jokes about it. The Britons avoid jesting about it, for fear that they get blamed of sexism. You would better to stay neutral!
Fashion also varies from Great-Britain to France. More used to a not too eccentric style from British women at work, the Anglo-Saxons sometimes are surprised by women’s fashion style in French companies. French women are feminine and are not afraid to show it. English women instead are less provoking and a little more classic and smart!
Whatever the surprise, you now will have no reason to say you did not know. If this has not been enough to satisfy your curiosity, do not hesitate to cross the Channel at the earliest occasion! You will come back home will plenty of anecdotes that will certainly make your friends laugh and maybe feel like joining you in France.
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